ANYONE WHO has ever seen conga player Mongo Santamaria in concert knows what to expect from his new album, "Live at Jazz Alley" -- namely, a combustible mixture of Afro-Cuban rhythms, fiery horns, sinuous flutes, robust chants and an extended version of "Afro Blue." All that's missing, in fact, is a reprise of Santamaria's biggest hit, "Watermelon Man."
Naturally, the music is densely polyrhythmic with the emphasis shifting from cha-cha and Latin Funk to jazz mambo and Cu-bop. The latter is represented by a nearly seven-minute arrangement of "Manteca," which capitalizes on Santamaria's keen sense of dynamics and the aggressive power of saxophonists Bobby Porcelli and Mitch Frohman. Fittingly enough, African percussion (chekere and bata drums) is added to the conga-driven mix on "Afro Blue," the album's remaining jazz standard. Over ten minutes long, the arrangement evolves into a vibrant and sometimes conversational showcase for Santamaria and singer and percussionist Eddie Rodriguez.
For all it rhythmic drive and overlapping textures, however, the album has a decidedly romantic slant as well, especially whenever Frohman's flute latches on to a melody as alluring as "Para Ti" or "Come Candela."
MONGO SANTAMARIA -- "Live at Jazz Alley" (Concord Picante). Appearing through Sunday at Blues Alley.