Papo Vazquez rocks our world
March 23, 2013
By Jazz Spy
On March 22, a Friday, 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 player, conga drummer John Santos was about to unleash what can only described as a force of nature on the audience. At the end, they would be dancing in the aisles, crying in their beers or maybe just hollering their appreciation for what used to be called a show stopper. Papo was determined to show his chops and at the same time to demonstrate why for a few rabid fans, Latin jazz is the new rock n’ roll. And as Papo so eloquently explained in a pre-show talk, the great bands always need a leader. During the course of what was almost a four hour performance, Papo 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 listen to.
By the time it was over, Papo had jumped into the audience for a trip through the sparkling new SFJAZZ Miner Hall, as the whole band danced a played. Many people had come expecting to see local player Santos. The actual performance was listed as Pirates and Troubadours, the name Papo has given to this group. Papo could not recall when he had last been in the City by the Bay. But for the lucky members of the audience, it was certainly a show that few will forget. The material was all original, composed by the leader in a modern style that had numerous sources, including what sounded like the entire history of Latin music. Throughout there was the roaring rhythms of two congalistas, 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 3D texture of sound. And on top of everything was the power and skills of PAPO on trombone and the great Willie Williams on saxes.
This kind of music just never let’s up. And the flying notes and rythms 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. And it was evident that Papo and his band represent a new generation of master players uniting the soul of African American roots with the most traditional dance and song structures of a music contantly evolving.
It is now crystal clear the experience of the SFJAZZ center is inspiring musicians to stretch themselves. From the deep soul and emotion of the Bobby Hutcherson tribute, to the explosion of swing from Scott Hamilton, there is a music experience at the new center that has the walls shaking. This, ladies and gentlemen is the big show, the rockin rolla party that jazz has always represented to both the fans and players. For this listener, the present is what we have all been waiting for. San Francisco is ready to join the elite cities of the world where jazz is roarin’. Somehow the musical universe here will never be the same.
PAPO'S NEW cd IS CALLED OASIS
Ken Vermes has been writing about, playing and photographing music since his days at Bard College
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