Few Latin ensembles have continued to play with such elegance, swagger and irresistible sensuality as those put together by Poncho Sanchez for decades. The leader’s ability to wrap his chops around the blues, and keep swing and clave together with attractive simplicity is now quite legendary. At times Sanchez can also blend his bubbling Latin repertoire with forays into a soulful realm, lending his gravelly voice and puckish charm to vocalizing in the grand manner. On Psychedelic Blues, however, he struts in a decidedly Latin style with rhythms and synchopations like greased lightening. In addition, the results are staggering – this whether the music dallies langorously or when it revs up.
Herbie Hancock’s “Cantaloupe Island” is the perfect kick-start – crackling guiro and all – to this old-fashioned set. Yet it breathes life into the session with a wonderful new arrangement by David Torres. As always, the growl of Francisco Torres’ trombone and howling brass of Ron Blake slide in and around the sleek woodwinds – rapier sharp and on the money. “Crisis,” a wonderfully familiar melody from the late Freddie Hubbard burns in a low flame as Arturo Sandoval crackles on the trumpet in characteristic fashion. The “Willie Bobo Medley” is simply the finest example of molten harmonies, angular rhythms and streetwise fun that only this song could bring. Sanchez’s vocals soar like Ray Charles.
John Coltrane’s “Grand Central” is somewhat familiar – almost a déjà vu in terms of its arrangement, but the bright reeds and woodwinds, playing counterpoint to brass – especially Torres’ trombone makes for a slightly more angular melody. The timbalero, George Ortiz always puts in a stellar turn everytime the spotlight is on him and his ability to play across Sanchez’s congas is almost ethereal. There is a master class from Sanchez on “Silver’s Serenade,” as he chops and slaps – open-handed and cupped palms – then slices and breaks the skins. All this in just a few seconds of conga solo that seems to last a lifetime as the notes hang in the air delightfully.
“The One Ways” and “Delifonse” showcase not just percussion, but also the work of the ensemble. Solos are somewhat short, but then this is classic showmanship. It is Poncho Sanchez’s way of showing majesterial leadership for his band to follow. Incidentally, his solo on “The One Ways” provides further evidence that there is a master at work. Francisco Torres is staggering and almost speech-like on “Delifonse.” And just when you thought you could not ask for more, it is the turn of the master trumpeter, Ron Blake to take flight with Sanchez, on “Con Sabor Latino.” Nevertheless, it is on “Psychedelic Blues” that the group truly shines. Sanchez leads from the front, ringing fast and surprising changes and when he is ‘on song’ – as he surely is here – there is no telling where his genius will lead him.
The set is relatively short, but then the group always maintains the excitement and swinging pulse at such a fever pitch, that elation lingers longer than the echoes of the last, dying notes. This is vintage Poncho Sanchez the kind that you do not want ever to end.
Tracks: Cantaloupe Island; Crisis; Psychedelic Blues; Willie Bobo Medley – I Don’t Know/Fried Neck Bones and Some Homefries/Spanish Grease; Grand Central; Slowly But Surely; Silver’s Serenade; The One Ways; Delifonse; Con Sabor Latino.
Personnel: Poncho Sanchez: congas, percussion, lead vocals; David Torres: piano, Hammond B-3 organ; Javier Vergara: tenor and alto saxophones; Ron Blake: trumpet, flugelhorn; Francisco A Torres: trombone; Tony Banda: bass, background vocals; George Ortiz: timbales; Joey de Leon Jr.: bongos, percussion, background vocals; Scott C Martin: baritone saxophone; Andrew Synowiec: guitar; Alfredo Ortiz: bongos, percussion. Special Guest: Arturo Sandoval: trumpet (2).