“We love you, Poncho!” came a shout from the audience before the musicians had played their first note. And a few tunes later, even some silver-haired members of the La Jolla community were dancing in the aisles. The Poncho Sanchez Latin Jazz Band has that effect on people. It’s hard to keep your feet still and a smile off your face once Sanchez and his talented rhythm section start a salsa beat.
The conguero formed his first group in 1980 and has since made 27 albums, received many Grammy nominations, and won twice. Although he’s thought of most often as a Latin player in a line from stars such as Mongo Santamaría and Tito Puente, he also sites tenor player John Coltrane as an inspiration. The dual influences are evident in the makeup of his bands. His musicians are comfortable with both Latin dance rhythms and contemporary jazz.
“Campechana,” a Sanchez original with a swaying Latin feel was a friendly opener.
“Promenade” followed with a faster tempo. Its theme and solos were more typical of mainstream jazz, while pianist Andy Langham and conguero Sanchez kept the Latin groove.
Three from Sanchez’s most recent album, Trane’s Delight, reminded the audience of his admiration for the endlessly inventive tenor player, and again Latin rhythms accompanied largely straight-ahead jazz solos. Through the evening those were most often provided by Ron Blake trumpet and flugelhorn, musical director Francisco Torres trombone and Tom Luer reeds. Most of the reed solos were on tenor.
The band’s amplified sound-balance was good throughout the evening except for a fleet, fluent alto solo early on when Luer sometimes all but disappeared under an enthusiastic rhythm section.
That exciting rhythm section included percussionists Giancarlo Anderson (bongos), Jose Perez (timbales and cymbals) and bassist Ross Schodek. Andy Langham mixed jazz and Latin dance, joining the rhythm section with the repeated piano phrases often used behind the extended solos of Latin percussionists such as Sanchez.
Poncho Sanchez’s easy-going affable stage presence contirbutes to his popularity. Bottom line-a fun evening! And an impressive start to this season’s La Jolla Music Jazz Series at The Conrad. The organization’s still new-feeling venue offers a strong addition to the terrific long-running jazz series of the Atheneum Library.
The La Jolla Music Society website includes times and ticket information for its jazz series and much more coming this season.