Alfredo "Chocolate" Armenteros
b. 4 April 1928, Ranchuelo, Santa Clara, Las Villas Province, Cuba. Virtuoso trumpeter, Chocolatehe also plays fluegelhorn, composes, arranges and produceshas worked in the gamut of horn-led Latin ensembles and idioms: ranging from typical Cuban septetos and conjuntos (he is one of the surviving true masters of the distinctive septeto style), rollicking big bands, a progressive salsa orquesta to a small Latin jazz group formathe has even recreated the trumpet sound of the golden age of calypso. Armenteros began playing trumpet at the age of 10 or 11. He moved to Havana and made his recording debut as a member of singer/composer René Alvarez's Conjunto Los Astros on the 78 Para Niñas y Señoras in May 1949. Recordings by Alvarez's two trumpet conjunto (small band) from the late '40s and early '50s, some of which featured Chocolate, were later collected on DEJAME TRANQUILO (1974) and Mano A Mano René Alvarez y su Conjunto Vs. Conjunto Modelo 1948-56(1976). Chocolate worked with the conjunto of innovative bandleader and tres guitar supremo Arsenio Rodríguez and between 1953 and 1956, he directed the brass section of Beny Moré's big band. He performed on Nat King Cole's COLE ESPAÑOL and became a staff member of the studio orchestra of the Cuban radio and television station CMQ. Armenteros made his first appearance in New York in the late '50s with José Fajardo. He relocated there in 1960 and after working with the Puerto Rican bandleader César Concepción, Chocolate began his long association in May with Machito's big band. He went on to work with a long list of New York-based Latin artists and bands, including Mongo Santamaría, Johnny Pacheco, Tico All-Stars, Larry Harlow, Osvaldo Chi Hua Hua Martínez (see José Fajardo entry), Lou Pérez, Charlie Palmieri, Roberto Torres, Ismael Rivera, Joe Quijano, Bobby Capó, Israel Cachao López, Chamaco Ramírez, Grupo Folklorico y Experimental Nuevayorquino (see Conjunto Libre) and Armando Sánchez y su Septeto Son de la Loma. The last two gave him an opportunity to exercise his septeto trumpet skills. Between 1968 and 1978, Armenteros played on nearly half of the albums (new titles that is) released by salsa experimentalist Eddie Palmieri. In the early '70s, Chocolate made his belated recording debut as leader of his own conjunto on the lacklustre CHOCOLATE AQUÍ. However he made amends in 1975 with CHOCOLATE CALIENTE, which was one of his strongest albums. The record was produced by Louie Ramírez and featured Brazilian trombonist José Rodrigues, who previously played in Eddie Palmieri's '60s band, La Perfecta. Rodrigues shared arranging chores with Armenteros and performed on 1976's CHOCOLATE EN EL RINCON. Conjunto Libre co-founders, percussionist Manny Oquendo and bassist Andy González, and güiro player Osvaldo Chi Hua Hua Martínez were amongst the guest musicians on the album.
In 1979, Chocolate played trumpet in the style of '30s and '40s' Trinidad calypso on KNOCKDOWN CALYPSOES by veteran Growling Tiger (Neville Marcano). That year, while appearing in Caracas, Venezuela as a member of Sonora Matancera, he was invited to perform on SE EMPATÓ EL SONERO by Sonero Clásico del Caribe, a band of veteran Venezuelan musicians who specialized in the traditional Cuban septeto style. Chocolate signed with SAR, and released three albums on the label between 1980 and 1982. Rodrigues joined the conjunto line-up on the first two: PREFIERO EL SON and y sigo con mi son. The latter marked the US recording debut of the young Cuban lead vocalist Fernando Lavoy. The album was devoted to extended interpretations, arranged by Cuban pianist Alfredo Valdés Jnr., of six songs associated with the Cuban bands Sonora Nacional and Conjunto Bolero, whose original recordings were all included on the collection Sones, Rumbas y Guaguanco issued by the Cuban state label Areito. In 1981, Armenteros performed on the notable CON EL RITMO DEL TAMBÓ by Chico Alvarez and Orquesta Mayómbe. Classically trained Alfredo Rodríguez occupied the piano chair on Chocolate's final SAR release, CHOCOLATE DICE, in 1982.
Armenteros became a member of the SAR house band, which performed and recorded under the name of the SAR All Stars. He toured Africa and Europe with them. Chocolate performed on SAR and allied Guajiro and Toboga label recordings by singers Roberto Torres, Monguito, Papaíto, Linda Leida, Henry Fiol, Angelo Vaillant, La India de Oriente (Luisa María Hernández), Jorge Maldonado, Chico Alvarez, Laba Sosseh, Alfredo Valdés, Lita Branda, Miguel Quintana and pianist Alfredo Valdés Jnr.
In 1983 he released CHOCOLATE EN SEXTETO. The personnel included percussionist Mario Grillo (Machito's son), Dominican saxophonist/flautist Mario Rivera and keyboardist/arranger Sergio George, who went on to become one of New York's leading producers and arrangers. Armenteros followed-up with more of the same on ROMPIENDO HIELO! in 1984. Also in 1983, he participated in a sextet of jazz musicians, including pianist Cedar Walton and trombonist Curtis Fuller, on EASTERN REBELLION 4 (1984) recorded in Holland. Armenteros also performed on the Caimán releases: SUPER ALL-STAR (1984) with Tito Puente, Paquito D'Rivera and others; the typical septeto style outing Pionero del Son(1984) by the late Alfredo Valdés, a former vocalist with the Cuban musical institution, Septeto Nacional, and CON TUMBAO (1985) by Los Guaracheros de Oriente.
Chocolate appeared in London with Machito's big band between 1982 and 1984, and recorded three albums with them in Holland in 1982 and 1983. He returned to London alone in 1986 for a five-night residency at the Bass Clef club, backed by the London-based outfit Robin Jones' King Salsa.
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