Giovanni Hidalgo: “Tribute to the King” Album Review


This post is also available in: Español

Giovanni Hidalgo released a classy and selectively different homage album to Tito Puente in “Tribute to the King“.

Fulfilled Promise to Puente

Four years before Tito Puente’s death, Giovanni asked and got permission from the timbales King to record a homage album for him. Giovanni told me this story in an exclusive interview, which I captured in my previous blog and in this video.

It took fifteen years for the master Puerto Rican conguero to finally get the right people and backing to make the recording.

Musicians in “Tribute to the King

Musicians list in "Tribute to the King".
Musicians that participated in the “Tribute to the King” recording.

Around 2009, some of Tito Puente’s band members got together to record an album to honor the King. They called themselves the Mambo Legends Orchestra (MLO), led by percussionists John “Dandy” Rodriguez and José Madera.

Their album was intended to preserve the Puente signature sound, with a mix of Tito’s songs along with new ones.

When Giovanni finally got the proper backing to record the album he had promised the King, he went to Johnny and Madera to recruit those Puente band members. However, as Giovanni had promised Puente, he would record exclusively Tito’s songs of his choosing.

Along with most MLO musicians, Hidalgo also invited childhood friends and master musicians David Rosado “Cuba”, and Anthony Carrillo.

El Viejo Está Aquí

Giovanni stated in the video mentioned above regarding the origins of this project, that Tito Puente not only gave his blessing for the project but also offered to be there to help with it. “Yo te voy a ayudar; yo voy a estar ahí (I’m going to help you; I’ll be there)” Puente told Giovanni.

Well, during one of the recording sessions, Giovanni and others actually felt the presence of Puente in the studio. Here is Giovanni’s tale of that very spiritual moment (in Spanish).

This tribute meant a lot for Giovanni Hidalgo not only because Tito Puente was a legendary musician, but also because he became his friend, band leader, mentor, and second father.

Hidalgo’s Excellent “Tribute to the King

Tribute to the King song list.
Songs in “Tribute to the King”.

The spiritual presence of Tito Puente in the recording studio elevated the musicians’ experience to another level. Giovanni and all the musicians listed above delivered an amazing performance of Puente’s songs.

And when you look at the songs selected for the recording, you’ll notice that they are not necessarily Puente’s most popular or recorded songs. They are songs chosen by a master percussionist to pay tribute to another master percussionist.

There’s one song that wasn’t Puente’s; “Timbales for Tito“, where Giovanni goes off on a solo showcasing the great skill he developed in the drums since the time his foster grandfather Nando taught him how to do a danzaredoble” when he was three years old.

The band sounds as good as in Tito’s own recordings, and in some cases perhaps even better due to the advances in technology.

Puente predicted that Giovanni’s tribute would be a great one. It’s evident that he was right once again!

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