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Poncho Sanchez: Soul Of The Conga

Jim Santella By

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Viva La Familia!

Poncho Sanchez’ Latin jazz band is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. And what a way to celebrate. With organist Joey DeFrancesco adding soulful sounds to the band’s vibrant program, this session smokes with deeply rooted traditions. There are the Hammond B-3 organ grooves with powerful horn solos alongside. Then, there’s the lovely two-part vocal harmony Sanchez and Tony Banda express from a simpler, rustic, cultural standpoint. And then there’s Terence Blanchard’s contribution on a timeless ballad. But the biggest surprise comes from the Ortiz Brothers, who sing in the traditional changui style from Oriente, Cuba. Sanchez joins the brothers on congas, as they chant and sing in Spanish with a different kind of soul.

Sanchez has been inviting special guests to work with his band for a long time. Past visitors to the family’s affairs include Freddie Hubbard, Eddie Harris, Tito Puente, Mongo Santamaria, Dianne Reeves and the Jazz Crusaders. For this session, DeFrancesco works for half the album, Blanchard for one ballad, and the Ortiz Brothers for four.

"Haitian Lady" offers one of the most dramatic moments of the program, as DeFrancesco and the band stir up repressed emotions. As always, the three horns in this band’s lineup work together as a tight unit and step forward individually with outstanding solo presentations. Saxophonist Martin soars on alto through three bright numbers, on tenor for three more, and on baritone for a handful more. The combination of baritone saxophone with organ on "Bodacious Q" invites a fun-loving, party atmosphere. Several of the selections sweep gently to a danceable beat. It’s an opportunity for dancing couples to get involved physically with this band’s magic. But when the hot solos erupt, much of the dancing motion stops and the audience crowds around to see it firsthand.

Sanchez sings several of the songs with a natural charm and sincere expression. His powerful conga technique continues to impress. On the closing "Rumba de Po-Tiz," particularly, the leader tears up the place with the kind of percussive tales that he’s been relating for twenty years. Sounds like he’s got the strength to go at least another twenty.


Title: Soul Of The Conga | Year Released: 2000 | Record Label: Concord Picante


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