Jazz CD Reviews
Poncho Sanchez – Psychedelic Blues – Concord Music
Published on November 22, 2009
Poncho Sanchez – Psychedelic Blues – Concord Music CPI-31526-02, 50:27 ****:
(Poncho Sanchez – co-producer, congas, percussion, lead vocals; David Torres – musical director, arranger, piano, Hammond B-3 organ; Javier Vergara – tenor and alto saxophone; Ron Blake – trumpet, flugelhorn; Francisco Torres – musical director, arranger, trombone; Tony Banda – bass, backing vocals; George Ortiz – timbales; Joey De León, Jr. – bongos, percussion, backing vocals; Arturo Sandoval – trumpet (track 2); Scott Martin – baritone saxophone; Andrew Synowiec – guitar; Alfredo Ortiz – bongos, percussion)
For decades Latin jazz percussionist Poncho Sanchez has led ensembles known for their fervent chops, energetic verve and lively appeal. On his latest sojourn, Psychedelic Blues, Sanchez once again heads into territory that encompasses soul, jazz, R’n’B and Latin American influences: in short, the roots that have been a part of his world since childhood.
This time around Sanchez de-emphasizes the soul-inclined flavor of recent releases in favor of a heartier Latin jazz environment, borne out by the inclusion of tunes by Herbie Hancock (an irresistible "Cantaloupe Island"), John Coltrane (a percolating "Grand Central"), John Hicks and more. To add fuel to the fiery atmosphere, Sanchez includes topnotch jazz musicians such as Ron Blake, trumpeter Arturo Sandoval and a young guitarist everyone should get to know better, Andrew Synowiec. Not to mention Sanchez’s usual lineup who have played with him on stage and in recording studios, some of whom go back 30 years with Sanchez.
The outfit commences with Hancock’s "Cantaloupe Island," featuring a juicy arrangement by David Torres highlighted by a charming groove and Hancock’s melody, which here twice changes keys. Francisco Torres’ trombone skates around the earthy groove with strong statements while Synowiec tosses in a savory six-string solo that fuses jazz phrasing with just the right dash of blues and funky edging, while Sanchez and bassist Tony Banda institute a steadfast rhythm. Anyone who is interested in other Sanchez translation’s of Hancock’s material should seek out the 1996 release Conga Blue, which has a tasty treatment of "Watermelon Man."
Sanchez has performed with many luminaries over his career, including Freddie Hubbard, whose "Crisis" is given an ebullient arrangement. Sanchez’s friend of two decades, Arturo Sandoval, takes charge as a special guest and bounds and blows, pouring out nimble passages of notes atop the chord changes and pushes forward the melody so it transforms into something nearly unrecognizable. Underneath the bright brass is the enthusiastic interplay of percussionists George Ortiz (timbales), Joey De León (bongos) and Poncho on congas.
Another celebrated horn player is also honored via a rousing interpretation of John Coltrane’s "Grand Central." The piece should be recognized by Coltrane fans and Blake’s arrangement maintains a familiarity, although the woodwinds and reeds provide a glossy contrast to the brass. Javier Vergara is a standout on his sax. Ortiz, on timbales, puts in a stellar turn as well and his expertise in playing across Sanchez’s conga lines is well worth hearing.
Francisco Torres’ arranging skills are brought to the forefront on a reinterpretation of Horace Silver’s "Silver’s Serenade," which is switched from a swing tune into an ascendant samba. Torres expresses himself with a stalwart trombone solo, but the real treat is listening to Sanchez’s syncopated conga lines, as he presents a display of masterful percussion preeminence. An even more impressive Francisco Torres arrangement is done for the title track, a fast-burning piece that has rapidly riffing horns, Synowiec’s bustling guitar lines and some lightning-quick percussion changes.
One of Sanchez’s musical idols was percussionist Willie Bobo, who enjoyed several pop and jazz hits, so its appropriate Sanchez uses this occasion to render a medley of compositions Bobo wrote or was associated with: "I Don’t Know," "Fried Neck Bones and Some Home Fries" and "Spanish Grease." David Torres puts together an arrangement that features catchy harmonies, intersecting and complex but accessible rhythms, and Sanchez’s soulful vocals. The medley acts as the album’s central axis, merging Latin pop, jazz, soul and more. "I Don’t Know" starts with a cha cha cha swagger as Sanchez vocalizes with the stance of a soul singer while Javier Vergara dispatches a concise sax solo. The group shifts a bit on the descarga "Fried Neck Bones and Some Home Fries," where Synowiec lays out a moderate guitar solo. Then an appealing groove sweeps over the forceful "Spanish Grease," wherein Sanchez again exhibits his easygoing vocals and Francisco Torres enumerates via a confident trombone breakout.
Sanchez further delves into his musical history with the closing number, the salsa-flavored "Con Sabor Latino," penned by Cuban Rene Touzet, a well-known Los Angeles bandleader in the ’50s and ’60s. Sanchez recalls his siblings going to see Touzet perform and hearing the song on the radio. While Sanchez and others spiritedly sing out the Spanish and English lyrics, the assembly kicks up the energy and trumpeter Ron Blake climbs high. Vergara then unfurls a fervid improvisation which overflows with hastened lines. The cut ends when Sanchez erupts with a consummate solo that hurls the band into a banked ferment. If somehow someone is not dancing by this time in the program, this tune certainly will get the feet moving.
On Psychedelic Blues Sanchez supplies an impulsive forthright collection of Latin jazz that rolls outward with vitality and a pulsing motion, while using both sincere imagination and a degree of accessibility. The audio quality is fitting throughout, with vocals, horns, percussion and guitar all up front. Due to the nature of the settings and the large amount of instruments, there is a fullness and an ample characteristic to the endeavor typical of Latin jazz.
1. Cantaloupe Island
3. Psychedelic Blues
4. Willie Bobo Medley:
a) I Don’t Know
b) Fried Neck Bones and Some Home Fries
c) Spanish Grease
5. Grand Central
6. Slowly But Surely
7. Silver’s Serenade
8. The One Ways
10. Con Sabor Latino
— Doug Simpson