For more than three decades, conguero Poncho Sanchez has stirred up a fiery stew of straightahead jazz, gritty soul music, and infectious melodies and rhythms from a variety of Latin American and South American sources. Throughout his career Sanchez has held aloft the torch lit by such innovators as Mongo Santamaria, Tito Puente and Cal Tjader, embraced by each of those icons and entrusted to carry forward the traditions of Latin Jazz.
Sanchez’s influences are numerous, and his catalogue is rich with his homages to several of his mentors – Santamaria, Puente and Tjader among them. But alongside those Latin pioneers, among the more prominent figures that inform his music is the iconic saxophonist John Coltrane. On his latest album Trane’s Delight, Sanchez pays tribute to the late jazz legend with Latin-tinged reimaginings of Coltrane classics as well as new pieces composed in honor of the tenor titan.
Trane’s Delight continues Sanchez’s remarkable 37-year relationship with Concord, a rich legacy that has now yielded 27 albums. The album features the conguero alongside his longtime band; trombonist and musical director Francisco Torres, trumpet and flugelhorn master Ron Blake, saxophonist Robert Hardt, pianist Andy Langham, bassists Rene Camacho and Ross Schodek, and percussionists Joey DeLeon and Giancarlo Anderson.
The album provides a direct link from the 67-year old conguero to his 11-year old self, who spent his own money on an album for the first time when he bought the 1962 classic Coltrane. Ultimately, Trane’s Delight offers a tribute not only to the stellar music and influence of the great John Coltrane, but a spotlight for the myriad ways that the tenor giant’s explorations have fueled courageous artists like Poncho Sanchez. The results, as on this passionate new album, would no doubt delight Trane’s searching spirit.
Although born in Laredo, Texas, in 1951 to a large Mexican-American family, Sanchez grew up in a suburb of Los Angeles, where he was raised on an unusual cross section of sounds that included straightahead jazz, Latin jazz and American soul. By his teen years, his musical consciousness had been solidified by the likes of John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Cal Tjader, Mongo Santamaria, Wilson Pickett and James Brown. Along the way, he taught himself to play guitar, flute, drums and timbales, but eventually settled on the congas.
At 24, after working his way around the local club scene for several years, he landed a permanent spot in Cal Tjader's band in 1975. "I learned a great deal from Cal," says Sanchez, "but it wasn't as though he sat me down and taught me lessons like a schoolteacher. Mostly it was just a matter of being around such a great guy. It was the way he conducted himself, the way he talked to people, the way he presented himself onstage. He was very elegant, very dignified, and when he played, he played beautifully. The touch that he had on the vibes – nobody has that sound. To me, he was – and is, and always will be – the world's greatest vibe player."