Latin Jazz that Feels Right

Poncho Sanchez and His Latin Jazz Band – Live In Hollywood
Poncho Sanchez and His Latin Jazz Band

Live In Hollywood (Concord Picante CPI-34110-02, 2012)

Acclaimed conguero Poncho Sánchez has a brand new live album recorded over the summer at the Hollywood & Highland KKJZ Summer Concert Series. The veteran percussionist showcases his vibrant Latin music in a live context. Although his ensemble is described as a Latin Jazz band, on Live In Hollywood, Poncho Sanchez goes beyond the parameters of the genre, including cha cha chá, blues, mambo, salsa and Afro-Cuban rumba.

Album highlights include the sabroso (tasty) ‘Poncho Sanchez Medley.’ “Francisco told me ten years ago that I should do a medley of my tunes,” says Sanchez about the advice given to him by his musical director Francisco Torres. “I said, ‘Ah, my songs aren’t that great; they’re just alright.’ I wanted to move on to new stuff and I didn’t pay too much attention. Then he told me again that we should do a medley for the live album and I agreed. I thought it would be cool to start with ‘Mi Negra’ and ‘Baila Baila’ and with the last one we step it up a notch and go a little faster.”

A notable piece is the slow tempo ‘Morning,’ composed by keyboardist, composer and arranger Clare Fischer. It’s meant to dance apretaito (really close). “Clare was a harmonic genius,” says Sanchez. “He wrote beautiful tunes and I knew these tunes when I was in junior high school. When I met him, I told him how much I loved ‘Morning’ and ‘Pensativa’ and ‘I Remember Spring.’ Then when we did our first record, at the last minute, we recorded ‘Baile Mi Gente,’ the first song I ever wrote, with Clare Fischer. We needed one more seven-minute song. I was done. I didn’t have any more songs. Then, Clare said, ‘Why don’t we do “Morning?”‘ [Saxophonist/Flutist] Gary Foster said, ‘Let’s do “Morning” as a cha cha chá.’ He got the flute out and I told him to try it on the alto. That was the hit on the album and that’s why I did it on Live in Hollywood. That’s how that all came together.”

Another highpoint arrives with the percussive piece ‘A Ti Namá’ that segues into ‘Afro Blue,’ Poncho’s tribute to his late friend, the great Mongo Santamaría. “He was my hero in life,” Poncho says of Santamaria. “I opened that song up with a little thing by myself, which is a rumba I sing. It’s an old Cuban street song. I did that off the top of my head. And then, boom, I set the time into ‘Afro Blue.’ He is my all-time favorite conga drummer. I even named my son Mongo.”

The album ends with effervescent salsa. “I wanted to end the night with a hot salsa number and there are a few more I could have done,” says Sanchez. “I always liked ‘Son Son Charari’ and that song did very, very well in Puerto Rico. They used to play it on the radio all the time.”

Live In Hollywood displays the infectious energy of one of the best Latin Jazz ensembles in the current scene. A powerful album by master conguero Poncho Sanchez and His Latin Jazz Band.

Poncho Sanchez turned 60 years old this year and will receive A Lifetime Achievement Award from the Latin Recording Academy at a November 14, 2012 ceremony in Las Vegas. “I’ve been involved with this from the beginning but just as a listener when I was a young boy,” says Sanchez. “I never dreamed it would happen that I would become a professional musician. You go with the flow and you go with your heart and what feels right, and now I know it feels right because this is how I made a living for my whole life. I’m not braggin’ but I did pretty well for a guy from the neighborhood.”

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