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It probably helps to understand Spanish when listening to Poncho Sanchez's jazzy brand of salsa, but it isn't imperative. Practically the only Spanish words I understand are "taco" and "tequila," but I've been grooving to this one for two weeks now.
With its contrapunctual rhythms, driving piano and buoyant horns, Sanchez's Latin jazz holds universal appeal. Latin Soul is a kind of live retrospective album that traces Sanchez's 16-year relationship with Concord Picante. There's a palpable synergy between band and audience on this 10-song collection, recorded at performances in Los Angeles and Oakland. The band feeds off the crowd, making for an upbeat, danceable listen.
Sanchez and company form one of the tighter outfits in Latin jazz. Both Sanchez (congas, vocals, percussion) and David Torres (piano) are formidable talents, and the four-piece horn section is spicy hot. Toss in the funky Latin percussionists and the call-and-response vocals, and Poncho makes you forget about Ricky Martin.
A true traditionalist, Sanchez pays tribute to several Latin jazz pioneers, including Willie Bobo (on the fast-paced "Lisa"), Mongo Santamaria (with the catchy "Besame Mama") and Puerto Rican great Tito Rodriquez (with a soulful version of "Mama Guela"). Especially good are his Latinized version of Herbie Hancock's "Watermelon Man" and a funky Eddie Harris medley ("Listen Here/Cold Duck Time").
Rating *** 1/2 (out of ****)
Tracks:El Conguero; Ven Pa Bailar; Ican; Watermelon Man; Conga Blue; Lisa; Besame Mama; Guaripumpe; Listen Here/Cold Duck Time; Mama Guela
Players:Poncho Sanchez (Congas, Vocals, Percussion, Timbales); David Torres (Piano); Ramon Banda (Timbales, Chekere); Jose "Papo" Rodriguez (Bongos, Chekere, Congas); Sal Cracchiolo (Trumpet, Flugelhorn); Scott Martin (Saxophones, Flute); Francisco Torres (Trombone); Mike Whitman (Baritone Sax)