Thursday, 3 July 2008

Ninapinta & His Bongos and Congas - The Downtown Scene (Mongo Santamaria?)

Ninapinta & His Bongos and Congas
The Downtown Scene
Vinyl rip & scans from Decca DL 74711

Originally I was going to post the sizzlin' boogaloo set from Eddie Cano & His Quintet's
"Brought Back Live From P.J.'s" on RCA. Before doing so, I discovered Universal Japan reissued it on CD a couple years ago for a hefty price but figured it wouldn't be a problem to post it anyway...until I saw the vinyl reissue at Dusty Groove for $8.99! If you ask me, their review is a shade conservative in praise and if you dig boogaloo or the sounds of the Young-Holt Trio, you oughtta snatch this one up without a second thought. Seriously, not only is this crew cookin' in a kitchen-party atmosphere with a buoyant crowd but Bones Howe produced and engineered so you know it sounds dynamite.

Instead, I went with Plan B and settled on the mysterious Ninapinta. Picked this up in a dollar bin about three years ago. Not too much info on him outside of the liner notes, a listing of "bongo bop" style records at Hyp and someone in an exotica mailing list who made an intriguing case for his true identity actually being Mongo Santamaria (Nina, Pinta, Santa Maria...get it?) . Methinks even if the name was chosen for that reason, it was probably a tongue-in-cheek rip-off moniker cooked up by some industry hack for a nobody or else Mongo had his name removed for aesthetic or contractual reasons. This originally came out on Decca in '67 and has been noted for sounding a bit more like swingin' London rather than Philly, where it was produced by Johnny Madara & Ben White. Check out the line up:

Ninapinta on bongos & congas
George Devens on percussion & vibes
Willy Rodriguez on percussion
Gary Chester on drums
Ernie Royal on trumpet
Clark Terry on trumpet
Joe Grimm on sax & flute
Artie Kaplan on sax & flute
George Duvivier on bass
Jimmy Wisner on piano & organ, arranger

Honestly, with a lineup like that you can't go wrong! Not only should almost all those names jump out at you from their estimable contributions to jazz and even pop music but most of these cats played with the likes of Tito, Machito, Dizzy, Cal, Bobo, Getz, Palmieri, Barretto and others on seminal latin jazz sessions that helped to define the style.

However, you can definitely under-use a band and that seemed to happen a bit on this session. I figure it's due to bland direction and a play-it-safe production style. The arrangements of these pop standards (not nearly so hackneyed then as they are now) aren't too bad (nor that adventurous either) but the players don't really get much room to break out. There are some good grooves amid the tight ensemble playing with a few sweet latin bongo breaks and enough entertaining moments to carry it along but it never really takes off the way it should.

Still, it's better than most latin jazz/boogaloo/mod pop knockoffs churned out for the mod market in the late 60s but not by as big a margin as one would hope and only due to the stellar musicians involved. It should have been miles ahead instead of a few yards. If Ninapinta really is Mongo Santamaria (can
anyone corroborate that claim?) then this comparatively lacklustre session might explain why it's been buried in the sands of time.

Still out of print but you can find the odd vinyl copies popping up on various sites for less than $10 or you can spend $25 for the Japanese CD reissue at Dusty Groove (seems cheaper there than most other spots). Note that both tracks on the 7" which has been fairly popular in the Northern Soul scene are on this album which, from what I can glean, was the only release by Ninapinta. If you're wondering what the fuss is about then dig it HERE or HERE cats 'n' kittens! For a preview of tracks, you can go here.

Note: There is a very tiny skip in the first few bars of "The In Crowd" and I couldn't do much about it.


johnv said...

I am very curious to hear what this one sounds like--thanks for the post. I only found your site very recently but I am enjoying all the great stuff you have posted. Best of luck!

Gianni said...


Timmy said...

I am very looking forwardly back to the days of Lounging around in my hemisphere.... THANX!

francisco said...



midiwife said...

I'm very fortunate to have a copy of this on vinyl. I play various tracks whenever I DJ. Completely fabulous.