Bill Cosby's charming liner notes to Poncho Sanchez's Freedom Sound describe how the new listener to Poncho will end up devoting his whole life to following him around, growing a Poncho beard, wearing a Poncho cap-even to bed, etc. There are a few recordings that have made me want to buy all the "cups, mugs, and frisbees" the artist puts out, so Cos may be right. (I don't know if Poncho really puts that kind of stuff out. The notes say only that he plays Remo "Poncho Sanchez" conga drums.) This one didn't quite do it for me, but it's a rewarding album nonetheless.
The band: Poncho on his Poncho brand congas and vocals; David Torres on piano; Ramon Banda on timbales and traps; Tony Banda on basses; Papo Rodriguez on percussion; Sal Cracchiolo on trumpet and flugelhorn; Scott Martin on reeds; and Alex Henderson on 'bone (and didirido on the title track). Jazz Crusaders Wilton Felder (tenor) and Wayne Henderson (bone) join on four (out of eleven) tracks each.
Henderson shines darkly on a deft Latinization of "You Don't Know What Love Is." The melancholia of the tune remains, but the congas make one able to dance away the sadness. Mournfully, as delineated by Henderson's solo. The trombonist is in a different mood on his own "MJ's Funk," which, as you may imagine, presents an altogether more hopeful, even defiant mien.
Poncho and his merry men (all sporting Poncho caps and beards?) undertake some interesting material here: besides "You Don't Know What Love Is," there's Johnny Griffin's "When We Were One," Kenny Cox's "Transdance" and "Latin Bit," and Joe Sample's tune that gave its name to the CD. The other tunes are just as strong, especially Poncho's engaging vocal on "(Baila El) Suave Cha," where Scott Martin turns in some sprightly flute work.
Well, my beard is not going to approach Poncho dimensions. Not yet, anyway. But Freedom Sound is a solid effort, and will certainly lead fans of Latin jazz to seek out more of the conguero's offerings.