Classic Afro-Cuban jazz
an American of Mexican origin who grew up in California, plays
rhythm-rich Afro-Cuban jazz rather than the usual pop music that
Hispanics or "Latinos" get attracted to
Keeper of the Flame
(from Music Gallery
House of Lords
No 8, St Mark's Road
Bangalore 560 001
Rs 1,200 (2-CD set)
Poncho Sanchez is an American of Mexican origin who grew up in California and seems to have chosen Afro-Cuban jazz rather than the usual styles of popular music that Hispanics or "Latinos" get attracted to. Issued as a double-CD set for the first time recently, this package was originally recorded in the '80s and is a fine showcase of Afro-Cuban jazz and one of its best exponents.
Although the two CDs were recorded on different occasions the mood and style of the music, as well as the performing musicians, are similar enough to justify reviewing them together. Sanchez plays congas and percussion, with support from Ramon Banda on timbales and others on bongos, besides Steven Huffsteter on trumpet and flugelhorn, Mark Levine on trombone, Gary Foster and Dick Mitchell on saxes and flutes, and Charlie Otwell on piano.
Afro-Cuban jazz is usually dense in orchestration and high in excitement, with plenty of solos from both melody and percussion instruments. This collection maintains these customary standards, Sanchez's own instruments naturally guaranteeing that the entire percussion section gets a big share of the action in the solos. Latin rhythms, such as the mambo, the cha-cha and the salsa, are prominent, while the compositions played comprise both Latin jazz originals and mainstream jazz interpreted in Afro-Cuban style.
The opening number of Sonando (the first disc) is A Night in Tunisia, a tribute to its composer Dizzy Gillespie, a pioneer of Afro-Cuban jazz. It's rare to come across a rendition of this classic without his participation maintaining the level of excitement he always imbued it with, but Sanchez, Otwell, Mitchell (tenor sax) and Huffsteter (trumpet) manage to do so. Sin Timbal (from the second disc, Bien Sabroso!) and Con Tres Tambores Bata un Quinto y un Tumbador from the first are equally uptempo pieces, both of which especially showcase the solo talents of the percussion instrumentalists.
For variety, there are a couple of slower and quieter numbers too. On Disc 1, Sueno in medium tempo is dominated by Mitchell and Foster on flutes and The Summer Knows is a soft ballad with Foster, lyrical on alto sax, Otwell and Sanchez sharing honours. Nancy (Disc 2) is a soft and mellow vehicle for Huffsteter on flugelhorn.
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