Mambo Kings with the Louisville Orchestra

Bob Bernhardt, conductor

Guest Artists, The Mambo Kings: Richard DeLaney, piano, Freddy Colon, percussion, Hector Diaz, electric bass, John Viavattine, winds, Tony Padilla, congas

Review by Annette Skaggs

Entire contents copyright © 2018 Annette Skaggs. All rights reserved.

With Louisville and the surrounding area having been in the grips of sub-zero temperatures, and snow and ice on the ground, we were finally seeing some warmth. As luck would have it, the Mambo Kings arrived this past weekend to perform with the Louisville Orchestra as part of their Pops series, with their red-hot Latin rhythms and beats, and in the process speeding up the thaw.

Upon the down stroke of Maestro Bob Bernhardt’s baton, the evening began, appropriately, with Leonard Bernstein’s Overture to West Side Story. Yes indeed, one could almost play this piece blindfolded, but this particular arrangement by Peress, had a bit of cleverness in it, allowing for a different tonality and a deeper, richer and meatier middle section (violas and cellos). Also, the brass was in the zone as it were. Crystal clear and pitch perfect.

Richard DeLaney and his Mambo Kings made their way on stage and went straight into Melodia: Son Guajira by Mr. DeLaney, along with the Orchestra. Letting the orchestra take a break, our guests treated us to a piece from their latest CD, the title track Nostalgia, featuring John Viavattine on the soprano sax. This guy knows this instrument and throughout the evening Mr. Viavattine treated us to memorable turns on the aforementioned soprano sax, tenor sax, and flute, often times doubling up with the orchestra.

After the pleasant Marinera the energy was ramped up with the rhythm-driven Caribe, from their first CD. Heavily infused with what I believe to be Afro-Cuban influence with a Dominican background, this song was a percussive tour de force, featuring Freddy Colon’s full drum kit and various accessories and the flailing hands of Tony Padilla on the congas, which were beautifully decorated. You would need special equipment to record how rapidly Mr. Padilla beat the skins on his congas as his speed was amazing yet always in rhythm.

Leading into the evening’s intermission we were treated to a Mambo rendition of Dave Brubeck’s jazz classic “Blue Rondo a la Turk”.

As the second half of the evening Mr. DeLaney tickles the ivory with the familiar melody of The Beatles’ “Day Tripper”. I thought to myself, “this can go really well or get sidetracked”. I can say it sort of landed somewhere in the middle. While this particular arrangement had slick nuances of Cuban jazz laced in, I felt that the saxophone solo just didn’t give the piece a lot of umph. I did enjoy the nod to Bernstein’s West Side Story thrown in for a little extra fun.

The orchestra joined back in with Astor Piazzolla’s Milonga del Angel, originally written for five instrumentalists, but arranged for orchestra by Mr. DeLaney. This was perhaps the most beautiful piece of the evening. Reflective and introspective.

I was really surprised that there weren’t any audience members dancing in the aisle’s during Mr. DeLaney’s Danzōn a la Antigua. While they may not have been on their feet, I assure you there was quite a bit of seat dancing going on.

As a fan of jazz, I enjoy a stand-up bass. The Jazz Waltz-ish “Footprints” by Wayne Shorter, allowed for bassist Hector Diaz to shine. While I cautiously listened, I could hear where an electric bass is the only way to go with such an improvisational piece. There were sounds and tones coming from Mr. Diaz’s strings that you’d simply not be able to cull from the traditional instrument.

I know that I said that I didn’t care for the saxophone in “Day Tripper”, but Mr. Viavattine made up for that in Rafael Hernandez’s “El Cumbanchero”. Like what Mr. Diaz did with his bass, Mr. Viavattine was pushing the boundaries of what his saxophone could and would be able to do under his expertise, along with our Louisville Orchestra, leaving us wanting more.

Lucky for us we did get a little more. Closing out the evening with the Tito Puente classic (made even more familiar by Santana) “Oye Como Va”, the Mambo Kings had the place jumping, thus cementing their status as the leaders of Latin jazz and ambassadors of Afro-Cuban/Latin musical stylings.

What a delight it was to watch this tight ensemble share their talents with us and to watch the reactions and enjoyment of the music within the faces of our Louisville Orchestra, especially Bob Bernhardt, who was seen more than once bopping around in his chair.

Bravi Tutti!!!

Mambo Kings with the Louisville Orchestra

January 20, 2018

The Louisville Orchestra
Kentucky Center for the Arts
501 West Main Street
Louisville, KY 40202


Annette Skaggs is heavily involved as an Arts Advocate here in Louisville. She is a freelance professional opera singer who has performed throughout Europe and in St. Louis, Cincinnati, Boulder, Little Rock, Peoria, Chicago, New York and of course Louisville. Aside from her singing career, she has been a production assistant for Kentucky Opera, New York City Opera, and Northwestern University. Her knowledge and expertise have developed over the course of 25+ years’ experience in the classical arts.