Record Label: Red Piano Records
Style: Meditations on Contemporary American and European Poetry with Music.
Musicians: Frank Carlberg - Piano; Christine Correa - Voice; John O'Gallagher - Saxophone; Chris Cheek - Tenor Saxophone; John Hebert - Bass; Michael Sarin - Drums.
Label: Red Piano Records.
Monday, May 30, 2011
Sunday, May 22, 2011
|Poncho Sanchez: Photo courtesy of globedia.com|
Poncho Sanchez was born in Laredo, Texas and grew up in Los Angeles, California. His musical influences are stoutly eclectic and include Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Cal Tjader, Mongo Santamaria, James Brown and Wilson Pickett. Sanchez's music is diffused through this rich tapestry of figures and outputs into a vortex of hot whirling colors with rhythms of dazzling ferocity.
Sanchez's drumming submerges itself sonorously deep beneath the band's instrumental harmonies, like a diver seeking pearls, then smoothly breaks to the surface with fists filled with rare gems that percussively decorate the ensemble's melodic structures, hanging in the air like fine jewelry on a beautiful Latina. He is Charles Mingus on Afro-Cuban drums: Impressively strong in fingers, wrists, forearms and shoulders; with stamina to match; the ability to attack the congas with a calculated, relentless fury and hand speed of a pugilist; forcing them to surrender all their vibrant sounds and rhythms with the force of an erupting volcano. Experts who know about these sorts of things, endearingly refer to Mr. Sanchez's drumming style as "sick."
The band includes: Rob Hardt - saxophone/flute: Ron Blake - trumpet/flugelhorn: Francisco Torres - trombone: David Torres - keyboards: Tony Banda - bass: George Ortiz - timbales: Joey De Leon - percussion: Poncho Sanchez - congas.
Sanchez and the gang came out of the gate like jets, with trumpeter Ron Blake, tenor saxophonist Rob Hardt and trombonist Francisco Torres breathing fire. The sold out crowds at this band's shows have come to expect this and as soon as he took over on his congas, the mood of the evening was set: Excitement reigned.
Sanchez then took some time to talk about his apprenticeship in the great Cal Tjader Band, which started in 1975 and lasted for more than seven years. He spoke with deep reverence and respect for Tjader and told the audience that he was with him when he died in the Philippines in 1982.
Tonight was a night of musical tributes, gazing backward and looking forward. Mixed in were sumptuous portions of pungent nostalgia and peppery rhythms.
Sanchez took a look back and simultaneously forward with a tribute to the Latin jazz contributions of Dizzy Gillespie and Chano Pozo, hinting at the focus of his next CD which will feature guest trumpeter Terrence Blanchard. The band played "Tin Tin Deo," "Manteca" and "Con Alma," with sparkling trumpet work by Ron Blake, a superb conga drumming display by Sanchez, Joey DeLeon's wizardry on percussion, splashing intricate, striking colors on to the sheets of sound laid out by the horns, while pianist/musical director David Torres pounded the ivories like a modern day John Henry, driving golden chords securely into the pulsating tracks for this Latin jazz juggernaut to propel itself in any direction, at any speed and under any condition.
A cool dip into the 2010 Grammy nominated CD "Psychedelic Blues" brought out refreshing concoctions of Willie Bobo's soulful "I Don't Know" and the spicy "Fried Neckbones and Some Homefries." These Willie Bobo compositions are especially suited for the band and are performed in a languid, soulful, swaying strut that seem to take audiences by the hand and transport them to a time of carefree, easy joy. On this occasion, they also served as an artfully constructed bridge to the classic, uptempo Dizzy Gillespie composition, "Groovin' High," spiced and seasoned by the burning timbales of George Ortiz, and perfectly cooked with a searing Rob Hardt tenor solo.
This group of players engages in very hip 'call and response' musical conversations which are imbued with sophisticated street-wise idioms, and cryptically funneled through their instruments; you get a whiff of them from the musical vignettes they spontaneously create as each player is introduced by name to the audience. It's also funnier than hell!
They perform like a well-oiled machine; changing moods, tempos, colors and rhythms like an efficiently working super-charged transmission. They spun around in this fashion, mesmerizing the increasingly spell-bound crowd until they ran full force into the white hot salsa furnace of "Guaripumpe." This infectious heart-beater got the dancers on their feet, helped by some very sardonic, comic exhortations from bassist Tony Banda.
This is the moment that the band broke through, and Sanchez sensed it. He immediately invoked the spirit of the "Godfather of Soul," James Brown, and let loose a torrent of his 60's hits that drove the entire room into a frenzy of 'testifying' and shouting like repentant sinners searching for soul-cleansing salvation. This was intended to be the band's musical 'coup de grace'; to lead to a smooth exit. But the feverish crowd had smelled blood and called for more; they screamed that they were not taking "no" for an answer. So Mr. Sanchez and his band respectfully obliged and returned to the stage with Herbie Hancock's perennial crowd-pleaser, "Watermelon Man." It's sweet, hypnotic, thirst-quenching effect, eventually brought the patrons down to a swaying, controlled, uneventful finale.
The fire was extinguished; until next time!
Poncho Sanchez Orch: Watermelon Man
Sunday, May 15, 2011
Tuesday, May 3, 2011
|Wayne Henderson-Joe Sample-Wilton Felder|
I have been a rabid fan of these 'crusaders' going all the way back to the 1960's and 70's. Now that they had regrouped after almost 30 years of separation, I was eager to see if they were still vigorous, aggressive, and able to advance their unique blend of R&B, gospel, street-wise, funky, soul-struttin' jazz; more than anything, I wanted to find out if they still made me want 'to get up and dance.'
The core of the band, with the exception drummer Nesbert "Stix" Hooper was intact. Pianist Joe Sample; Saxophonist Wilton Felder; Trombonist Wayne Henderson, seasoned, elder statesmen in contemporary jazz, comprised that core, and had at their disposal, a stunning body of catalogued material to mine.
Now, it was only a matter of turning up at the venue: Them and me!
The Jazz Crusaders had tons of hits in the 60's and early 70's. It seems that for each savvy Jazz Crusader audiophile, there was that single memorable, visceral, recording that always played itself somewhere deep in the psyche. In truth, I have never heard anyone put down any record they made. Actually, I don't think they ever made a 'bad' record. The recording that has stayed with me over the years, the one that epitomized what The Jazz Crusaders articulated 'back in the day' was "Street Life" featuring vocalist Randy Crawford.
YOSHI'S JAZZ CLUB, JACK LONDON SQ., OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA.
MAY 07, 2011
Saturday May 7, 2011 was a glorious spring day in Northern California, it was almost picture perfect. It could not possibly have gotten any better; but it did. It turned into a scintillating night for all those who got into Yoshi's Jazz Club in Oakland to hear the Jazz Crusaders play their special brand of music.
A sold out crowd of all ages, descended on the club in full splendor and colors; blacks, browns, whites, yellows, all colors in between; all blues; all hues. The sartorial elegance of this gathering belied the current depressing economic conditions of the City and State. They came to take a look back at a time when things were different and better. Some came to bear witness to a missive of hope for the future from a group of trusted crusading messengers; some for a brief respite from harsh reality; some just to have a good 'ole time.' When it was all over, they all got whatever they came for.
The atmosphere in the room was buzzing; electric; when the members of the band walked onto the stage and launched themselves onto "Broadway," a medium tempo, easily recognizable tune, which had been a staple in their impressive musical repertoire long before George Benson drove it through the pop stratosphere . Wayne Henderson struck a match of nostalgia as he took the first trombone solo, and Wilton Felder's tenor lit the flame as he followed. The 'Sound' was there; intact; the collective timbre, rich and inscrutable; the audience knew immediately what kind of a night this was going to be.
Wayne Henderson made the all important connection as M. C. with the audience: He delivered the sermon to the congregation. Pianist Joe Sample shared this duty, adding color and historical background information regarding their emerging musical experiences as kids in Texas, leading up to the eventual formation of the band. The audience could identify; they were put at ease; musician and jazz fan became 'one.'
Homage was paid to Nesbert "Stix" Hooper, a founding member of the original Crusaders, when his slow tempo composition "Night Theme" was introduced by Sample's searching, poignant piano artistry, with Henderson casting a nostalgic glance backward on the muted trombone, allowing the audience to pull back ever so slightly from its own elevated sense of expectation, and settle snugly into the moment. Nick Sample, Joe Sample's son, added a warm, room-absorbing, melodic bass to Night Theme, exercising an impressive control of tone and volume that did not go unnoticed by the attentive patrons in the house.
And then came "Hard Times," according to Wayne Henderson, a tune from the 'chitlin circuit' that stretched from the New York's Apollo Theatre to the Regal in Chicago, and was thought to be a product of the genius Ray Charles, but turned out to be written by "some white guy in New York." The music was having a visible effect on the audience; the room began to talk to itself; some folks could not resist the urge to exchange pleasantries with others seated near them, even if they had never met that person before; tonight, no one was a stranger; they were all victims of their own excited desires; swept up in an electrifying musical flight of fancy. A strikingly beautiful woman sitting in front of me, who admitted that this was her first time seeing and hearing the Jazz Crusaders, leaned back and moaned in my ear, "they know just how to hit it and back it down." Meanwhile, Joe Sample, Wilton Felder and Wayne Henderson calmly delivered the message, like revivalists at a prayer meeting.
Just when I thought the evening's musical apogee had been reached, Wayne Henderson announced "Snowflake." On cue, another young woman seated behind me beamed, "I Love Snowflake," I should have been warned. Snowflake had a languid Latin-Caribbean tempo and flavor, that is, until the drummer, Doug Belote, a native of New Orleans, got out of his cage looking to rumble. He managed to squeeze every tempo, sound and rhythm out of his drum kit that it was capable of producing, and I suspect, some that were not within its realm. He raised the tension in the room, relaxed it, raised it some more, relaxed it, and with each change of tempo, the room's pent up energy would swell to breaking point and then subside, then swell again. I saw Henderson and Felder each make attempts to find spots to come in, but Belote was having none of it, he was like a rookie, called up from the minors, pitching a wild-eyed, shutout no-hitter. Eventually, Joe Sample rode in on his trusty keyboard and tactfully came to the crowd's rescue, before any one could expire from the effects of mixing sheer exuberance with heightened suspense. Doug Belote had come within a few heart beats literally, of bringing the house down.
The audience was left scratching its collective heads after "Snowflake" and ironically that was the name of the next selection. "Scratch." This was a funky gospel offering that turned the entire congregation into a sea of bobble-headed screamers, swaying intoxicatedly to Wilton Felder's bewitching, syrupy tenor, juxtaposed against Henderson's brassy, insistent flugelhorn. To end it, Sample served up some soulful rocking chords as the horns trailed off smoothly into soft silence.
A vivid portrait of the 1979 hit "Street Life" was then painted by the horn of Wilton Felder, forcing 'girlfriend' seated behind me, to shout out; "Oh yeah! You play it boy!" I made a mental note to really pay attention this time. Fortunately, without Randy Crawford to ignite a conflagration, the atmosphere remained cool, and I eased back off the edge of my seat.
The final tune of the concert was the crowd pleasing, "Way Back Home," a soulful, funky, down-home strut, that served as a perfect cap to the night's entertainment. As it grooved to a close, the crowd got to its feet and applauded in unison, not so much, I thought, for an encore, even though they were some calls for one, but more to welcome back The Jazz Crusaders to the music scene. On this night, they proved themselves true to their code: Vigorous and aggressive in the advancement of their cause.
And yes! They did make me want to get up and dance again!
The beautiful woman seated in front of me summed it all up perfectly: "They may be old guys, but they have the energy of kids at play!"