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Pacific Mambo Orchestra at the Craterian

Look for a two-hour show of fiery, horn-driven mambo, salsa and Latin jazz when Pacific Mambo Orchestra takes the stage at the Craterian Theater Saturday. The San Francisco-based ensemble — led by pianist Christian Tumalan and trumpeter Steffen Kuehn — creates a sound drawn from the big, Latin bands that sizzled in '50s and '60s in New York City.

"When Christian and I started the band, we wanted to bring back mambo," Kuehn says. "We looked toward the fathers of mambo that played the Palladium in New York. They were Tito Puento, Machito and Tito Rodriguez. It was music that originated in Cuba, but became mambo in New York's melting pot. It's a bit faster than the salsa that eventually emerged from it."

Pacific Mambo Orchestra is set to perform at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 16, at the Craterian, 23 S. Central Ave., Medford. Tickets cost $27, $30 or $33; $19, $22 or $25 for ages 18 and younger. Tickets can be purchased online at www.craterian.org, by calling 541-779-3000 or at the box office, 16 S. Bartlett St.

When Pacific Mambo Orchestra is performing on stages around its San Francisco Bay Area base, the ensemble features 13 horn players: four trumpets, four trombones and five saxophones. Piano, bass, timbales, congas and bongos are added to round out the sound.

"For the tour, we will have slightly less," Kuehn says. "But we'll pack the same punch."

The Medford show will feature guest vocalist Willy Torres of New York City and the band's lead singer Alexis Morales, along with Tito Puente Jr., son of the late mambo king, on timbales.

"This is the first time Puente has played with us," Kuehn says. "He and his father were very close. He actually looks just like him. Since his death in 2000, he's kept the legacy of his father's music alive. He's played timbales like his dad for the last 13 years."

As co-founders of the ensemble, Keuhn and Tumalan share their passion and vision for the music and determination to get the band to where it is today.

"We played our first concert in 2010 at Cafe Cocomo, a big salsa and Latin dance club in San Francisco," Keuhn says. "We were offered steady gigs at the club for two years. It was a great way to build a fan base and work on our compositions.

"Now, we're three weeks into a national tour that's been very well-received. It's been fantastic. We've gotten standing ovations every night."

The band's first, self-titled album was independently released in October 2012. "Pacific Mambo Orchestra" is available at www.pacificmambo.com, also at CD Baby, Amazon, iTunes and other online outlets.

"The popularity of the songs, according to the downloads, has been fairly even across the board," Keuhn says. "One is an original arrangement of Stevie Wonder's 'Overjoyed,' with San Francisco singer Kenny Washington. Another is an arrangement of Ruben Blades' 'El Cantante,' which was first performed by bandleader Willie Colon. The rest of the album's material showcases compositions by myself, Steffen and Aaron Lington."

Pacific Mambo Orchestra will perform six songs from the album — along with three songs from Tito Puente's oeuvre — at the Medford show.

"It's more of a show than a concert," Keuhn says. "There's a lot of interaction on the stage, so there's a lot of visual as well as audio. The feedback we're getting is that it is very entertaining.

"We've been fortunate so far to play in some great concert halls around the country, and the new CD is on the ballot to be selected for four Grammy nominations."

Pacific Mambo Orchestra draws its fiery sounds from the mambo kings of the '50s and '60s. - Photo courtesy of Ricardo Tellez