Three master congueros, each with a distinctive style, lend the Conga Kings' accelerated pulse, but the name is meant to highlight the heart of the group, not describe the entire body.
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As do all the top percussionists in Latin jazz, this conga drum triumvirate displays a deep sense of context. On their self-titled recording, Candido Camero, Carlos "Patato" Valdés, and Giovanni Hidalgo juxtapose the visceral nature and immediacy of their African drums with the reflective, Cuban-country tres and the urgent vocals of New York Latin dance music. Parts of this album sound like an updated version of Top Percussion by Tito Puente, a classic "high-fidelity" percussion record from the Fifties. Like Puente's group, the three featured players here display mucho technique and taste, and never digress into excessive, ego-driven mishmash. The result is a pleasant album with enough bite to invite listeners to hit the dance floor.
The Conga Kings, who switch smoothly from Afro-Cuban improvisations to Latin American folk songs to Latin jazz to rumba, bring a concert version of their group that is eleven players strong, including their lead singer. But the real treat is in the Kings ' ensemble playing. There's nothing like the primal sweetness of nine conga drums being played by six masterful hands. Andrés Solar
The Conga Kings
The Conga Kings perform at 8:00 p.m. Wednesday, November 8, at the Carnival Center for the Performing Arts, 1300 Biscayne Blvd, Miami. Tickets cost $15-$55. Call 786-468-2000 or visit www.carnivalcenter.org.