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Poncho Sanchez and his Latin Band: Live in Hollywood

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The Latin jazz of Poncho Sanchez rolls on like a well-oiled machine, showcasing the verities that have made him North America’s (if not the world’s) most popular conguero-bandleader. Unlike last year’s Chano y Dizzy! with trumpeter Terence Blanchard, Live in Hollywood boasts no high concept or special guests. On the contrary, some familiar faces are missing from Sanchez’s band, most notably his longtime bassist Tony Banda but also pianist David Torres and George Ortiz on timbales.

Yet Sanchez retools to maintain the three-horn, three-percussion lineup he has deployed for decades, disdaining constant flash and sizzle for that delicious, contrapuntal groove that occurs when the players have grown up with the music and know when to lay back in the cut. To underscore his love of tradition and continuity, he reaches back into the ’80s for a rousing medley that includes “Mi Negra,” “Baila Baila” and “Bien Sabroso,” and pays homage to a pair of musical heroes by covering Mongo Santamaria’s “Afro Blue” (featuring a gorgeous flute solo from Rob Hardt, who also distinguishes himself on alto and tenor) and the pastel-toned “Morning” from the late composer, arranger and pianist Clare Fischer.

About the only misstep is a perfunctory blues, “Crosscut Saw,” featuring guitarist George Dez on vocals. Sanchez allows himself the full spotlight for little over a minute, on “A Ti Nama,” but is at his best as first among equals in the conga/bongo/timbales braid of beats that undergird the band. They close out the night-recorded just last July 31-in spirited fashion with the salsa “Son Son Charari.”

Originally Published