Concord Music Group
Musicians can live a lifetime of music, but their early musical experiences define them and help them take root in an artistic approach. In a lot of ways, they don’t necessarily have much choice in the matter; their primary exposures are based on the artistic preferences of their community, their family, or the popular culture around them. Those musical genres soak into their heads and become of permanent piece of their consciousness. When they initially start their musical journey, they usually set the music of their roots as a goal – it becomes the music that they want to learn and perform. In most cases, it’s the music that comes the most natural to them, and as a result, it’s the music that they perform with the most proficiency. Sometimes musicians build a career upon the music of their roots, and sometimes they move in different directions. Even as a musician seeks to broaden their horizons and master other styles, the music of their roots always holds a soft spot in their hearts. It may influence the musician’s artistic concept or appear more blatantly, but a musician will always return to their roots eventually. Conguero Poncho Sanchez long ago set his roots in straight-ahead Latin Jazz and salsa, becoming a major figure in the genre. After a multi-album move towards Latin funk and R n’ B, Sanchez returns to a more traditional approach on Psychedelic Blues, giving us solid Latin Jazz played at a high level.
Classic Jazz Standards In A Latin Context
Sanchez reaches into the roots of his style with a collection of tracks that place classic jazz standards in a Latin context. Guitarist Andrew Synowiec provides the traditional introductory vamp for Herbie Hancock’s “Watermelon Man” over a cha cha cha groove, leading into a melody that twice changes keys. Trombone player Francisco Torres slides around the funky groove with a strong statement that benefits from his keen sense of melodic development. Synowiec returns with a tasteful improvisation that skillfully combines jazz phrasing with a slightly funky edge and a bluesy tinge, fitting perfectly into the song. Bassist Tony Banda establishes a steady vamp over a son montuno groove, eventually transitioning into the melody on Freddie Hubbard’s “Crisis.” The horns explode into the second half of the melody, leaving the lead role to special guest artist, trumpet player Arturo Sandoval. The well-known trumpet player leaps boldly into the solo cycle, running rapid streams of notes over the chord changes and eventually landing in a freely interpreted version of the melody. The horn section races directly into an up-tempo son montuno on John Coltrane’s “Grand Central,” making their way through a contrasting 6/8 section on the bridge. Saxophone player Javier Vergara winds his way through an energetic improvisation, spinning bop-flavored lines over the rhythm section’s powerful momentum. After a return to the melody, pianist David Torres moves into a broken montuno while Sanchez crafts a masterfully developed improvisation. The horn section travels through an understated introduction, landing in the relaxing melody to Horace Silver’s classic “Silver’s Serenade.” Francisco Torres takes advantage of the song’s active harmony, stretching moving lines through the rich chord changes with a keen melodic insight. A bold horn interlude transitions into a brief but well-conceived improvisation from David Torres, before the band hits a series of breaks for an enthusiastic solo from Sanchez. These tracks resonate with a classic Sanchez vibe, paying tribute to great jazz standards while finding creative treatments over Afro-Cuban rhythms.
A Mix Of Danceable Vocal Tunes
Sanchez’s sound always included a dash of danceable vocal tunes, an element that he gladly includes here. The group pays tribute to one of the genre’s great percussionists through a witty arrangement of several tunes on their “Willie Bobo Medley.” As a funky cha cha cha struts through the background, Sanchez sings through “I Don’t Know” with the phrasing of a classic soul singer and Vergara delivers an accessible solo. The band changes gears into the Bobo descarga “Fried Neckbones And Some Home Fries,” handing the spotlight to a coy solo from Synowiec. An addictive vamp floats over a cha cha cha on “Spanish Grease,” as Sanchez once again lays down solid vocals and Francisco Torres adds an assertive solo. A series of band hits explode into an inviting vocal on “Con Sabor Latino,” where Sanchez reaches out to his audience with both Spanish and English lyrics. Trumpet player Ron Blake kicks the band into high gear with driving lines and syncopated figures until Vergara enters with a fiery improvisation filled with racing lines. By the time David Torres flies into a strong montuno, Sanchez explodes with a climatic solo that sends the band into a frenzy. Danceable tunes have always been a strong piece of the Sanchez repertoire, and these tracks demonstrate the strength of their placement.
Original Compositions And Arrangements From The Sanchez Band
Sanchez has always left room for his band to contribute original Latin Jazz pieces, and he includes a series of original compositions and arrangements. A frenetic unison band lick sends the group charges into an up-tempo blues melody complemented by smartly arranged rhythm section hits on Sonny Henry’s “Psychedelic Blues.” Several sharp stop breaks set Francisco Torres in the spotlight, allowing him to tear through an aggressive improvisation, until Synowiec catches the band’s momentum and enthusiastically builds an engaging statement. David Torres provides an addictive montuno as timbalero George Ortiz explodes into an album highlight solo full of virtuosic licks and precise accents. Blake twists a relaxed melody around band hits on John Hicks’ “Slowly But Surely” before the whole wind section falls into an understated melody over a cha cha cha. As the group moves into the solo cycle, Blake indulges in the song’s rich chordal structure with a skillful and energetic jazz improvisation. Vergara takes a more relaxed approach with long melodies and jazz embellishments, leading into a frenzied interlude that finds the wind players racing through a non-stop melody. A sparse groove from Banda’s bass sets the tone for David Torres’ “The One Ways,” transitioning into an unassuming melody over a 6/8 rhythm. Vergara takes his time developing an introspective statement, winding lines through the lush harmony, emphasizing melodic beauty and a reflective sensibility. After a slight return to the melody, the rhythm section lays a solid foundation behind the thunderous exchange behind Sanchez on congas and percussionist Joey De Leon on batá. A rapid fire melody winds around a complex series of percussion breaks on the Sanchez-Francisco Torres composition “Delifonse,” setting an immediate rhythmic inertia. Francisco Torres plays upon this energy with an assertive improvisation that combines running streams of notes, a bold tone, and a bluesy edge. An edgy piano and bass ostinato provides a foundation for De Leon’s bongo solo, which grows from a series of traditional phrases into a flurry of percussive attacks underneath a slithering background line. These tracks provide the opportunity for the Sanchez band to integrate a bit more individual personality, keeping the album’s flavor close to home.
Delivering A Fun And Satisfying Experience
Sanchez’s roots shine strongly through the solid set of traditional Latin Jazz on Psychedelic Blues, delivering a fun and satisfying experience. There’s a clarity and transparent nature to the Sanchez sound that simultaneously respects the historical and cultural roots of the music while reaching out to a wide audience. Although his earlier experiments pushed him in another direction, Sanchez never strayed too far from his roots. He runs one of the most consistently powerful bands in the genre; even when he dabbled in R n’ B, it held a Latin Jazz edge. His choice of repertoire delicately blends his experiments with his background, keeping things firmly in the Latin Jazz world with a number of serious standards while touching on funk through Bobo and Hancock. Both David and Francisco Torres contribute a major shape to the sound with outstanding arrangements that resonate with a straightforward honesty and sincere enthusiasm for Latin Jazz. Synowiec makes a good addition to the band, infusing the group with a modern sound while staying entrenched in tasteful jazz phrasing. Sanchez and his rhythm section remain one of the tightest groups on the current scene, delivering precise breaks with the clarity of one person and steaming grooves with the power of one hundred. Sanchez delivers a strong, straight-ahead collection of Latin Jazz on Psychedelic Blues that resonates with integrity and a wide appeal, proving that a musician’s roots often translate into an exciting and honest musical statement.
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