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Poncho Sanchez at Denver Botanic Gardens, Colorado

Geoff Anderson By

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Poncho Sanchez
Denver Botanic Gardens
Denver, Colorado
August 24, 2009

Poncho Sanchez is the state of the art in Latin Jazz these days. Since the passing of Tito Puente in 2000, Sanchez has ascended to the top of the list of active players in terms of popularity, exuberance and the undeniable authority of his Latin rhythms. By the end of Sanchez' second set Monday night at the Botanic Gardens, the only ones not dancing were the infirm, the topiary and a couple of hockey fans.

Of the three generally recognized musical elements—rhythm, melody and harmony— jazz places its emphasis on rhythm first and lets the others follow. Latin jazz takes that to the nth degree. The Poncho Sanchez Band includes three percussionists as well as a bassist and keyboards which, even more than a traditional jazz band, are primarily rhythm instruments in this band. Rounding out the group is a three-piece horn section (trumpet, trombon) and reeds (alto, tenor, flute), all of which spend a significant amount of time punctuating the proceedings with staccato blasts. Indeed, the rhythm is the thing, the main thing.

Sanchez is a conguero, but he plays other assorted percussion instruments in addition. As the leader, he gets to sit front and center on stage, emphasizing even more (if that's possible) the fact that the band is here for the beat. They apply that rhythm to a variety of styles; and they make them all move. Salsa is obviously heavily represented, but so are bebop, soul and even funk. The Willie Bobo medley had some of the greasiest grooves of the evening with tunes like "Fried Neckbones and Some Homefries." Dizzy Gillespie's "A Night in Tunisia" and Herbie Hancock's "Cantaloupe Island" provided some firm ground for the jazz-oriented listeners. Throughout the evening, the horn section dabbled with funk. But it was in the encore that they let it rip with a medley that started with "Shotgun" and, then, removing all doubt that this is an ensemble that can get as funky as humanly possible, they broke out in "Cold Sweat" by James Brown.

Sanchez' 23rd album on the Concord label, , is due to be released at the end of September, and several of the tunes he played Monday night will be on it, including the Willie Bobo medley, "Cantaloupe Island" and "Con Sabor Latino." Between the steady output of CDs and a consistent touring schedule, Sanchez continues to keep everybody dancing.

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