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Papo Vazquez: San Francisco, CA, March 22, 2013

Ken Vermes By

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Papo Vazquez's Pirates and Troubadours
SFJAZZ Center
San Francisco, CA
March 22, 2013
On Friday, March 22, 2013, jazz lovers at the new SFJAZZ Center were in for a very special experience. As part of the series of concerts curated by a jazz artist, conguero John Santos unleashed what can only described as a force of nature. By the conclusion of trombonist Papo Vazquez's performance, the crowd was dancing in the aisles, crying in its beers and hollering its appreciation for a real show-stopper. Vazquez demonstrated his chops while, at the same time, showing why, for some rabid fans, Latin jazz is the new rock 'n' roll. And as Vaszquez so eloquently explained in a pre-show talk, great bands always need a leader. During the course of what was almost a four-hour performance, Vaszquez wailed on his trombone, danced, sang, played rhythm instruments and, most importantly, directed a band of New York-based musicians who were as spectacular to watch as they were to hear.
By the time it was over, Vaszquez had jumped into the audience for a trip through the sparkling new SFJAZZ Miner Hall, while the band danced and played. Many people had come expecting to see local player Santos, and the performance was listed as Pirates and Troubadours, the name Vaszquez has given to this group. Vaszquez could not recall when he had last been in the city by the bay, but for his fortunate audience, he delivered a show that few will forget.
The material was all-original, composed by the leader in a modern style drawing from numerous sources, including what sounded like the entire history of Latin music. Throughout, there were the roaring rhythms of two congueros—Anthony Carrillo and Carlitos Maldonado—along with drummer Alvester Garnett. The music had a clear modernist edge but, as the night went on, more and more of the deepest Latin funk seeped in. A constant play between the drummers, horn players and other instruments created an undulating three-dimensional sonic landscape. And, on top of everything, was the power and skill of Vaszquez and the great saxophonist Willie Williams.

The music never let up, and the flying notes and rhythms lit a fire under the audience, drawing everyone into a vortex of colors and moods that centered on the excitement of New York City and the jazz life. Vaszquez and his band clearly represents a new generation of master players uniting the soul of their African American roots with the most traditional dance and song structures of a constantly evolving music.

It has also become crystal clear that the SFJAZZ Center is inspiring musicians to stretch themselves. From the deep soul and emotion of a recent tribute to vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson to saxophonist Scott Hamilton's explosion of swing, SFJAZZ Center engenders a musical experience that has the walls shaking. This is the big show, the rock 'n' roll party that jazz has always represented to both fans and players. San Francisco is ready to join the elite cities of the world where jazz is roaring. Somehow the musical universe here will never be the same.

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