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Seven For Ray: A Ray Mantilla Highlight Reel

John Brathwaite
Ray Mantilla performing at At PJ's Jazz Festival, Mount Vernon, NY.

As a bandleader or as a sideman, percussionist Ray Mantilla, who died Saturday at 85, always provided a boost. Here are seven performances that really achieve liftoff. 

Bobby Watson and Ray Mantilla with The Jazz Tribe, “Mantilla’s Jam”

The Jazz Tribe was a collaborative group led by Ray and alto saxophonist Bobby Watson, with Jack Walrath on trumpet, Ronnie Matthews on piano, Curtis Lundy on bass, and Victor Lewis on drums. This tune demonstrates Ray's love for blues-oriented themes. His feature comes in at the back end in an explosive double time rumba section that seamlessly transitions back to the original cha-cha-cha/son-montuno/ funk groove. 

Ray Barretto, “Los Cueros”

Here is Ray Mantilla playing timbales in a typical Cuban context, with Ray Barretto’s Charanga Moderna from 1962 — at the height of the Pachanga dance craze in New York. You can hear why Barretto loved his boyhood friend’s rock-steady time. José Canoura is the flute soloist. Mantilla takes a short solo at the end.

Cedar Walton with Ray Mantilla, Live at Jazzmobile

Here you can hear and see the influence of Candido on Ray’s playing. He uses all three drums in a melodic manner, playing as a guest with one of his closest friends, pianist Cedar Walton, at a Jazzmobile concert on Aug. 9, 2000 at Grant’s Tomb in Morningside Heights. Also in the band are Javon Jackson on tenor sax, David Williams on bass and Kenny Washington on drums. You'll notice Ray plays left-handed.

Ray Mantilla, “Seven For Mantilla”

From Ray’s first album as a leader in 1978. The ensemble was piano-less, with Jeremy Steig on flute, Carl Ratzner on guitar, Eddie Gomez on acoustic bass and Joe Chambers on drums. Ray gets the final word on this ahead-of-its-time tune, which is in 7/8 meter.

Max Roach and M'Boom, Jazz Middelheim, 1973

Here is Ray performing in Europe with M’Boom in 1973, one year after joining the ensemble. Max Roach insisted that after learning the music in rehearsal there would be absolutely no music stands on stage.

Ray Mantilla, Los Apolypticanos

Ray in a more avant garde setting with his own group, from the 2013 album The Connection.

Ray Mantilla with Candido, “Concierto Para Bongo”

This Perez Prado piece was never performed live until this tribute concert at The Town Hall in 2002. Here Ray joins forces with his hero Candido on congas, while he plays bongos with sticks. (Perhaps you'll recognize the drummer.)

Bobby Sanabria is an eight time Grammy-nominee as a leader, drummer, percussionist, composer, arranger, conductor, documentary film producer, educator, activist, and bandleader. A native son of the South Bronx born to Puerto Rican parents, he has performed and recorded with such legends as Tito Puente, Mongo Santamaría, Dizzy Gillespie, Chico O’Farrill, Ray Barretto, Cándido, Henry Threadgill, Larry Harlow, and the Godfather of Afro-Cuban jazz, Mario Bauzá.