José Rizo, the popular and influential disc jockey who hosts the long-running Jazz On The Latin Side on KKJZ (KJazz 88.1 FM) in Los Angeles is also notable as a bandleader and songwriter. In 2011 he founded Mongorama, a nonet inspired by conguero Mongo Santamaria’s early 1960s band. Their third album, following Mongorama and Baila Que Baila, features flutist Danilo Lozano (the group’s musical director), tenor-saxophonist Justo Almario, violinist Dayren Santamaria, pianist Joe Rotondi, bassist Ross Schodek, Joey De Leon on congas, Alfredo Ortiz on bongo, guiro and chekere, the late timbale master Ramon Banda (whose place is taken by George Ortiz on half of the set), singer James Zavaleta, conguero Joey De Leon, and a few guests including trombonist Francisco Torres
who wrote nine of the arrangements and co-wrote five songs with Rizo. Ramon Banda was one of the greatest timbale players in Latin jazz. Mariposas Cantan is his final recording. Banda, who played with Poncho Sanchez for years, recorded with Cal Tjader, and was also a jazz drummer with organist Joey DeFrancesco, recorded six of the selections of Mariposas Cantan before becoming very ill and passing away. His last recorded solo is on the track “Mongorama.” This CD is dedicated to him and it includes Rizo’s “Descarga Ramon Banda,” an exuberant piece performed by the full group plus Francisco Torres as a final farewell. There are many highlights to Mariposas Cantan. Cal Tjader’s “Mambo Mindoro” (which is a little reminiscent of “Afro Blue”) features violinist Santamaria in fine form. Singer James Zavaleta is in the spotlight on the joyful love song “Mariposas Cantan” while “Helen Of Jazz” (a tribute to the late disc jockey Helen Borgers who requested flutist Lozano on this piece) has infectious work from the percussionists and features Lozano’s flute. Zavaleta and flutist Lozano interact on several of the numbers including the playful “Quindimbia” and “East L.A. Meets Napa.” The ever-popular “Watermelon Man” has a strong Almario tenor solo and “A Little Dab’ll Do Ya” finds the group inspired by the warm melody. Add in the excellent singing of Alfredo Ortiz on “Fiesta De Charangueros” and Yoshigei Rizo (the leader’s daughter-in-law) during the ballad “Como Fue” and one has a thoroughly enjoyable set of modern Latin jazz. José Rizo worked for KCSB-FM, and KIST-AM before debuting his long-running (now 30 years) Jazz on the Latin Side program on KKJZ-FM in 1990. Always very interested in Latin music (particularly jazz), Rizo has produced jazz and Latin music festivals, co-founded the Saungu Record label with his wife Leticia V. Rizo, and in 2000 put together the Jazz on the Latin Side All-Stars, a 16-piece star-filled Latin jazz band that has recorded four albums. Nine years later he also began leading Mongorama. The release of Mariposas Cantan, Mongorama’s third and arguably most rewarding recording, is the latest accomplishment in José Rizo’s busy career. It will be enjoyed by Latin jazz fans and salsa dancers.