Winnipeg's Jazz Magazine

January/February 2011: David Braid

Papa Mambo: Rare Hybrid

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What do you get when you cross a sharp Latin dance band with a grand symphony orchestra? It’s a rare hybrid—and one Winnipeg audiences will have a chance to hear this January when Papa Mambo steps out with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra.

Rodrigo Muñoz, the driving force behind Papa Mambo, is more than a bit excited about this outing. There’s precedent for this kind of collaboration, he says, but it hasn’t been done here before. Muñoz, along with trombonist Jeff Presslaff, have been busy for most of the past year choosing repertoire and creating arrangements that take full advantage of the symphony’s string and brass sections. Presslaff points out that the symphony offers “a lot of sounds that we don’t get in the band, and there’s something that happens when you harness one hundred people toward the same goal—it’s different from an eleven-piece band!”

The concert will feature a mix of originals and Latin standards, and offer a loose history of Afro-Cuban music. The program starts with early Cuban-style night club music and moves through the contemporary salsa stylings which have been so heavily influenced by the Cuban and Puerto Rican musicians in New York City. A relentless groove and infectious warmth characterize the music, from the earliest expressions to the most recent. This is dance music that nobody can resist, and that’s what Rodrigo loves about it. “It’s a lot of fun,” he says simply. “When people are dancing, or even just tapping their feet or the table, it energizes the band—you think, ‘Oh, I’m doing something right!’ and you want to play even groovier! I don’t think they allow dancing in the Centennial Concert Hall, but people will be dancing in their seats!”

Presslaff and Muñoz are contributing about half the arrangements for this concert. The rest come from Horacio Gonzalez, a Cuban musician Rodrigo worked with several years ago. Gonzalez directs the salsa orchestra for the Tropicana night club, a band that is somewhat smaller than the WSO-Papa Mambo group, but with similar components. Rodrigo had played Gonzalez’ arrangements, and was keen to get him involved. The fee included a replacement for Gonzalez’ failing laptop, which made it more possible for the octogenarian to whip together scores for the Winnipeg gig. “He’s a genius,” Rodrigo says. “Everybody has juicy parts!”

Papa Mambo is cruising toward its twenty-second birthday, and though the personnel have changed somewhat over the years, the energy and musicianship have been unflagging. With Richard Lee at the podium and the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra supporting and extending their reach, they’re prepared to take the Afro-Cuban sound to a whole new level. Don’t miss this show!

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