Poncho Sanchez ‘Live in Hollywood’ (Concord) 4/5

Latin Jazz percussionist Poncho Sanchez is one of the stalwarts of the Concord label and its Concord Picante Latin offshoot and has been a long-time recording artist since the early 1980s. Some of his most memorable albums have been in a live context where tradtional Afro-Cuban rhythms such as cha cha and mambo have fused with R & B, bop-inflected jazz to produce an intoxicating melting pot of sounds. A highpoint was reached in the early 1990s with ‘Live at Kimball’s’ and those that witnessed him live during a brief mid-1990s UK tour could not fail to have been impressed. This latest live offering is in fact a series of performances in California with a re-invigorated band and again covers a wide spectrum of influences. A lovely fluid moving opener ‘Promenade’, composed by trombonist and musical director Francisco Torres, set the scene ideally. Poncho Sanchez has long loved to combine his favourite soul and funk tunes of the past with some tasty Latin flavours and this musical salsa here is a intruiging reworking of the blass standard ‘Crosscut saw’ that Albert King made a hit out of and guest guitarist George Dea does a fine job of receating the blues in a Latin idiom. This is a much neglected musical fusion that was very much in vogue during the 1950s with mambo and in the 1960s with Latin soul, but apart from ther sterling efforts of Carlos Santana has been largely ignored ever since. Two jazz standards that are often given the Latin jazz treatment, ‘Mambo Inn’ and ‘On Green Dolphin Street’, are effortlessly segued into one here and some steaming ‘palante’ (driving) music is created in the process. A medley of early Sanchez compositions are revisited in twelve minutes of mambo-infused heaven and include ‘Mi negra’, ‘Baila, Baila’ and ‘Bien Sabroso’, the latter being the title track of arguably Poncho Sanchez’s best studio recording. Factor in some more refined playing on the sensuous Clare Fischer composed ‘Morning’, performed here as a cha cha and a faithful reworking of the Mongo Santamaria evergreen ‘Afro Blue’ and you have a fine example of modern day Latin-infused jazz. It is of note that Poncho Sanchez recently received a lifetime achievement award from the Latin Recording Academy and certainly he served an ideal apprenticeship with the very best in the 1970s as lead percussionist in Cal Tjader’s band, and performing equally as part of Clare Fischer’s Latin ensemble before branching out as a leader in his own right. Tim Stenhouse

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