Will we ever truly know the extent of the shadow John Coltrane casts over the jazz world? We’ve seen over the last two years how the jazz community converges around the news of his unearthed recordings, but we don’t always get to see the smaller instances of influence, where another young player hears the call and follows Trane on the quest for higher musical understanding. Poncho Sanchez, the master conguero, provides a window into that intimate relationship on his new record Trane’s Delight. The album showcases Sanchez’s devotion over five decades of deep and passionate study of the saxophonist.
More specifically, Sanchez demonstrates his appreciation by seamlessly translating three of Trane’s acrobatic, heady numbers to the body-animating and highly lyrical setting of a nine-piece Latin band. “Liberia,” with its bluesy head and strong polyrhythmic cadence as set by Elvin Jones, has those elements expertly accentuated by the multi-horn and multi-drum band, with trumpeter Ron Blake’s solo highlighting both the darkness and joy of the melody. Sanchez’s rapid-fire congas push the tempo of “Giant Steps” past breakneck while pianist Andy Langham’s fingers dance a dizzying rhumba across the keys. The bombastic “Blue Train” retains its powerful horn lines, but once the mambo percussion fully manifests underneath, the standard sounds more like a great salsa number than a paradigm of hard bop. Sanchez furthers the dialogue with new Trane-inspired compositions like the title track, which captures the surging dynamics of Coltrane’s melodies as well as a driving solo from the conguero, and “Yam’mote,” which embodies the bright-yet-weighty momentum of the saxophonist’s playing.
Trane’s Delight ends with an ebullient take on “Todo Termino,” made famous by the Puerto Rican singer Tito Rodríguez, another idol. Here, Sanchez calls Los Angeles salsa singer Norell Thomson to the bandstand, letting her deep, soaring voice carry the number to an ecstatic place. It’s not a frenzied performance, but an experience of sublime divinity, a celestial celebration. And it’s a small glimpse of the type of enlightenment that Coltrane, Sanchez, and other musicians seek in their art.
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