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