Poncho Sanchez & His Latin Jazz Band
Chucho Valdes & the Afro-Cuban Messengers
Walt Disney Concert Hall
Better than…listening to Mark Sanchez play the congas.
Last night before a sedate but nearly sold out crowd at Walt Disney Concert Hall, Poncho Sanchez and Chucho Valdes led their own bands through hour long sets of percussion-driven latin jazz. The conguero from Norwalk and the pianist from Cuba kept the energy high but never seemed quite comfortable in the lavish hall.
Sanchez and his band strode on to the stage, dressed in black and ready for a good time. “Are you ready to party?” Sanchez shouted, marking his first appearance at the concert hall. The band opened with a mid-tempo take on the Jerome Kern standard “Yesterdays.” After a brief piano and saxophone solo Sanchez hammered his congas, drawing applause mid-solo. Following that tune the band launched into a medley of Willie Bobo tunes that had Sanchez crooning before rolling through “Fried Neckbones and Some Home Fries.”
The eight piece band was joined by trumpeter Terence Blanchard as they made their way through a few tunes from their recent collaboration Chano Y Dizzy. Blanchard's fiery trumpet soared over Sanchez's spirited conga on a medley of Dizzy Gillespie tunes before they settled down for a slow-burn through “Con Alma” featuring a fine piano solo from pianist Andrew Langham.
The band closed with a little salsa on “Arinanara,” forcing many of the stone-faced patrons to move in their seats just a little. To their credit the audience sprung to life with a standing ovation when the band eventually finished, as if they had been restlessly suppressing their urges throughout the set.
Cuban pianist Chucho Valdes took over the second half. His seven piece band featured three percussionists who churned and burned throughout the set. The band opened with bassist Lazaro Rivero Alarcon vamping on his electric axe before Valdes jumped in with a two-fisted solo over the two-chord vamp. The tune closed with percussionist Dreiser Durruthy Bambole playing and chanting, displaying his multi-tasking skills as the horn players receded into the darkened corner of the stage.
“Ponle la Clave” was a faster tune that featured tenor saxophonist Carlos Manuel Miyares Hernandez flying over Bambole's persisitent clave. After another commanding solo from Valdes the band gave way to the drummers who pounded out engrossing poly-rhythms before returning with a swinging interlude.
The third tune of the set became a family affair. Vocalist Mayra Caridad Valdes, Chucho's sister, joined her brother for a waltzing duet carried by her bellowing voice.
It wasn't until an untitled blues number that Valdes' piano chops really got to shine. Accompanied by just the bassist and drummer Juan Carlos Rojas Castro, Valdes took the spotlight, displaying fleet-fingered flashes in the higher register while balancing a more subtle and swinging left-hand line. The showboating went over well with the crowd, and they applauded enthusiastically with each impressive display.
The band closed with a boisterous encore that featured Bambole and more impressively Bambole's suit. The percussionist danced back and forth across the stage dressed in white from head to toe as the band played behind him. Even the lighting showed a little liveliness, pitching back and forth, briefly turning the hall into L.A.'s most extravagant night club.
After another standing ovation, the band walked off the stage, shuffle-dancing to music only they could hear.
Personal Bias: I'm not the dancing type but I would have enjoyed it if someone in the audience cut a rug.
The crowd: Mustachioed men and well-coiffed women.
Random Notebook Dump: The couple in front of me, jazz series subscribers, had driven all the way from San Luis Obispo.