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Poncho Sánchez and Terence Blanchard: Chano y Dizzy!

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For anyone who has watched the interview with Dizzy Gillespie where he describes his encounter with Chano Pozo, when the great percussionist first came to him with the raw, almost primordial ideas for the now legendary “Manteca Suite” it is impossible not to be impressed with the raw power of the melody and harmonic scheme that Mr. Gillespie told of as it was being composed almost at the time that Chano Pozo conceived it. There is the rumbling bass that leaps from plane to plain; the screaming trumpet and the immaculately growling trombone. But there is also something else that Mr. Gillespie does not verbalize, but underscores the entire Interview: and that is the unusual relationship that the trumpeter and the percussionist enjoyed almost as soon as they met. Now, after what seems like an age, this relationship is showcased in a moving tribute to the two musicians and this takes the form of an utterly memorable record, Chano y Dizzy! from percussionist Poncho Sánchez and trumpeter Terence Blanchard.

Both Mr. Sánchez and Mr. Blanchard have been in the vanguard of developments in the new age of their respective instruments. Poncho Sánchez has been leading groups from the front, pushing the envelope as he dug deep into his Latin American roots and intertwining these with the language of jazz. Mr. Blanchard, for his part came to the fore from the inhabiting the bluesy guts of New Orleans to being a part of the stellar cast in Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers to blowing his horn with wide-eyed wonder and dazzling innovation in the forefront of jazz shortly after Wynton Marsalis. On this album, Mr. Blanchard pays homage to one of the great legends of the trumpet like a spiritual zealot. He does so, however, in a voice all his own. His is a gilt-edged, burnished sound that emanates from deep within his soul. Mr. Blanchard’s phrasing here carves the air around the music in glorious arcs that are fashioned in narrow—and sometimes—wide shapes, wet with emotion and majestic in their inspiration and innovation. He is never shrill, as a lot of Latin-American trumpeters are; preferring to keep it almost muted, yet forceful. In addition Mr. Blanchard plays with a great deal of ingenuity, always skirting the obvious, pausing slightly for breath as he rejuvenates each succeeding phrase with something new and amazing.

Poncho Sánchez harks back to the glorious days of Chano Pozo himself, echoing the wondrous staccato intersessions of men like Tata Güines and all the great percussionists of the past. He approaches percussion with angularity and ingenuity, constructing his songs with the agility of a virtuoso pianist using his fingers to convey melody, and meaning as well as narrating the history of Afro-Caribbean legends and storytelling that came to the shores of the America long before musicians began to speak the language of Latin Jazz or any other musical dialect using the glorious metaphors of trova, son and danzón; rumba and bolero. Mr. Sánchez is blessed with hands that are made of music and when he beats his congas he can tell a story, re-awakening the legends contained within. He slaps and caresses the skins as if he were describing the physical attributes of a lover he remembers with great affection and detail. His playing is so sensuous as to rake up emotions of listeners that may have been buried deep in the unconscious of his listeners.

Although the album is uniformly brilliant, the bolero, “Nocturna,” the Chano Pozo medley that includes “TinTin Deo/Manteca/Guachi Guaro” and “Ariñañara” and the classic tunes written by Mr. Gillespie, “Con Alma,” and “Groovin’ High” are absolutely unforgettable as the musicians here have completely reimagined them; “Con Alma” and “Nocturna” particularly have a surreal beauty as they unfold melodically at a stately tempo. Indeed the entire album tumbles down, song after song with imperial affectations suggesting—more than reverent homage—but great love for the near-mythical figures in music: Chano Pozo and Dizzy Gillespie.

Tracks: Chano Pozo Medley: Tin Tin Deo/Manteca/Guachi Guaro; Con Alma; Wandering Wonder; Siboney; Dizzy’s Dashiki; Groovin’ High; Nocturna; Harris’ Walk; Promenade; Jack’s Dilemma; Ariñañara.

Personnel: Poncho Sánchez: lead vocals, congas, percussion; Terence Blanchard: trumpet; Tony Banda: bass, vocals; Ron Francis Blake: trumpet; Joey De Leon Jr.: bongos, percussion, drums; Rob Hardt: tenor and alto saxophones; George Ortiz: timbales; David Torres: piano; Francisco Torres: trombone, vocals.

Label: Concord Picante Records
Release date: September 2011
Running time: 55:08
Poncho Sánchez on the Web: www.ponchosanchez.com
Terence Blanchard on the Web: www.terenceblanchard.com
Buy Poncho Sanchez’s music: amazon

Based in Milton, Ontario, Canada, Raul is a poet, musician and an accomplished critic whose profound analysis is reinforced by his deep understanding of music, technically as well as historically.

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Adrien Brandeis: Siempre Más Allá

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Roberto Jr. Vizcaino, Adrien Brandeis, Roberto Vizcaino Guillot - Photo Nayeli Mejia
Roberto Vizcaíno Jr., Adrien Brandeis, Roberto Vizcaíno Guillot - Photo: Nayeli Mejia.

Listening to the music of Siempre Más Allá, it certainly seems that the young French pianist, Adrien Brandeis has strengthened the belief that he is a proverbial citizen of the Afro-Caribbean universe. To be clear Mr Brandeis still loves all music and swings as hard as any pianist who loves Black American Music – that is, music that you can sing and dance to. But also continues to be beguiled by the rolling thunder of Afro-Caribbean music. The wild call of the rhythms and the joie de vivre of the questing melodies and harmonies not only appeal to his ear, but also speak to him in the hidden parts of his heart.

By his own admission Siempre Más Allá took root during three tours to Mexico undertaken under the aegis of the Fédération des Alliances Françaises du Mexique. The virtually all-Afro-Cuban repertoire of the album radiates charm at every turn. These disarmingly natural and eloquent performances bring out the music’s inherent drama and penchant for tumbao with a deft touch while indulging Brandeis’ lyrical instincts to the full. Meticulously balanced, the four quartet pieces, the trio and duo pieces feel as if they are chamber works. Brandeis’ astonishingly insightful playing is musically captivating and technically blemishless. Each phrase rings so completely true that one can’t imagine the music played any other way.

Adrien Brandeis: Siempre Más Allá
Adrien Brandeis: Siempre Más Allá

The album features Mr Brandeis and a group of very accomplished musicians. These include the celebrated Cuban percussionist Roberto Vizcaíno Guillot [on two tracks] and his son Roberto Vizcaíno Jr., Mexican drummer José Loria Triay make up the wall of percussion. The Brasilian bassist Giliard Lopes brings his distinctive veritas to the whole rhythm section. The big surprise here is, perhaps, the presence of the great Cuban Horacio “El Negro” Hernández sitting in the drum chair on La buena vibra.

Siempre Más Allá is an affirmation of Brandeis’ enduring love and natural affinity for Latin music. Not surprisingly the music seems to echo the famous Latin American phrase: “¡Que rico bailo yo!” [which, in English, exclaims: “How well I dance!”]. This is no hyperbole as the music – in its pulses and rhythms show as Brandeis traverses the rhythmic topography of the Caribbean and Latin America. Along the way Brandeis plunged into the world of changüí, the chacarera, Brasilian gaucho music and the ancient melodic thunder of bàtá drums.

From the get-go listeners will find themselves immersed in quite another world of rippling percussive grooves. The track Ek Bakam, for instance, conjures the intricate architecture; the line and flow of an epic Mayan civilisation located in the Yucatan. Narratives from the Latin world abound – often paying homage to famous traditional musicians. Pancho’s Power is one such chart inspired by the vivid world of the legendary trio Los Panchos. Brandeis gives his percussion section a lot of space when he puts the spotlight on them on Tierra de Oportunidades – a wistful memory of the pianist’s three tours to Mexico, which is also incidentally the popular provincial slogan of the Mexican state of Guanajuato. On Huachi-Huachi Brandeis digs deep into the epicurean delights of the only Latin country in North America with this song in praise of a kind of gourmet Mexican fish: the huachinango.

Brandeis then celebrates his association with percussion colourist Roberto Vizcaíno Jr. with the extraordinary music of Vizcaíno Blues, a piece unique with its exploratory chromaticisms and elegant sonorities that beautifully capture the eloquence of the percussionist in whose praise the music is written. Mindful of the fact that Vizcaíno is Cuban but makes his home in Mexico, Brandeis shapes the rhythmic and harmonic palette of the piece accordingly. On La Buena Vibra Brandeis delivers astonishing pianistic fireworks in the piece’s melodic and harmonic lines, played at a frenetic pace, to mirror the style of its dedicatee, Michel Camilo. The pianist demonstrates an authentic home-grown grasp of Cuban music as he reimages Voy a Apagar la Luz, by the legendary and late-singer Armando Manzanero, here adapted as a wistful solo piano work. Meanwhile on the dizzying ride of Humpty Dumpty the pianist pays homage to another idol: Chick Corea, by revisiting the sparkling composition of the recently-deceased piano maestro.

It is hard not to be mesmerised by this spirited and finely nuanced music artfully crafted in an album by Adrien Brandeis, a pianist who is about to take the world by storm with a recording that is going to be one of the finest by any musician located outside the Latin American sub-continent.

Deo gratis…

Tracks – 1: Huachi Huachi; 2: Alegría; 3: Pancho’s Power; 4: Ek balam; 5: Un peu d’espoir; 6: Vizcaíno’s Blues; 7: Tierra de oportunidades; 8: Humpty Dumpty; 9: La buena vibra; 10: Voy a apagar la luz

Musicians – Adrien Brandeis: piano; Giliard Lopes: contrabass; José Loria Triay: drums; Roberto Vizcaíno Jr: congas and bàtá drums. Featuring Roberto Vizcaíno Guillot: percussion [1, 6]; Horacio “El Negro” Hernández: drums [9]

Released – 2022
Label – Mantodea Music Productions
Runtime – 58:25

YouTube Video – Adrien Brandeis – Siempre más allá (EPK)

YouTube Audio – Adrien Brandeis – Vizcaíno’s Blues

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