never fails to ignite his audience, and his Latin jazz band came out blazing as the Saturday night opening act/headliner at the semiannual Cape May (N.J.) Jazz Festival, April 8-10. Sanchez, the hammer-handed conga player and leather-lunged lead singer for the eight-piece band, had a crackerjack three-horn front line as always, a pianist who doubled on electrifying organ, and a couple fellow percussionists blending on hard-driving arrangements and contributing creative solos. All of which compelled some in the crowd to heed his command to get up and dance. Sanchez saluted a half-dozen of his musical heroes over the course of two sets, including conguero pioneers Willie Bobo
Excitement reached a peak on one long, unnamed salsa tune as the ensemble riffed feverishly behind tenor saxophonist Robert Hardt's marathon solo. For a needed change of pace, trombonist Francisco Torres and pianist David Torres teamed on a luminous version of the ballad "Nearness of You," while Sanchez tapped gently behind them.
The leader paid deserved homage to his sound man, Larry Sanchez, who's worked with Poncho for 24 years. Indeed, the sound in the school gym that serves as Cape May's concert hall, while a new Convention Hall awaits construction, was superb. Even in the controlled chaos of the busiest ensemble passages, every note came across crystal clear.
Friday night's headliner, ex-Tonight Show guitarist Kevin Eubanks
Eubanks sounded great on his one feature, the hymn-like "Adoration," as drums and sax sat out. And he charmed with his genial personality, relating anecdotes about his TV years and current life as a touring jazzman.
brought mellower-sounding marimbas for his three sets leading the Wolfpac. In one set, he introduced an exotic original, "Natural Beauties," then raced down "Green Dolphin Street," with drummer John Lamkin
sang with infectious gusto on several jazz standards, and collaborated with longtime friend, poet Jeannette Curtis-Rideau, who recited some of her works while the quartet grooved behind her. A highlight was her "They Can Scat, Man," a clever homage to singers from Louis Armstrong
' bombast could shut them up. Perhaps when emcees remind people to shut off their mobile devices, they could ask compulsive yakkers to go sit far to the rear.
Winston Byrd used to be a regular at early Cape May festivals, until he packed up his trumpet and magnetic personality in the early 2000s and headed to Hollywood-land. The erstwhile high-note bopster was back this year, leading a soul-jazz sextet that showcased the remarkable voice of Daniel Walsh, with Byrd inserting Miles Davis