Poncho Sanchez sets the stage on fire

Pancho Sanchez and his Latin Jazz Band lit up the Chapel with tradtitional Latin styles on Feb. 6 as part of the Lawrence Jazz Series.
Peter Halloin

Pancho Sanchez and his Latin Jazz Band lit up the Chapel with tradtitional Latin styles on Feb. 6 as part of the Lawrence Jazz Series. (Quinn Lake)

Poncho Sanchez and his Latin Jazz Band took the chapel stage on Thursday, Feb. 6, and set the hall on fire with the hot sounds of salsa and Latin jazz music. In addition to his fantastic musicians from Los Angeles, Sanchez brought with him his usual drive for energetic music and high spirits.

The seemingly young band all seemed to feed off each other’s energy throughout the evening, showing that they were all strong musicians who had great love for the music.

The veterans of the band, particularly Tony Banda on bass and Sanchez himself, seemed to flow effortlessly with every musical situation that arose. The newer members of the band–George Ortiz (timbales), Serafin Aguilar (trumpet), and Sal Vasquez (bongos, tres)–showed musical sophistication beyond their years.

The band opened the first set with a straight-up salsa tune featuring Francisco Torres on trombone and Aguilar on trumpet, followed by Sanchez on congas. From the get go, the band grooved hard and showed the audience what Latin music is all about.

Poncho Sanchez’s band stands out among other Latin jazz groups for his strong ties to the traditional salsa bands of the ’50s and ’60s, namely Mongo Santamar¡a’s bands.

At the same time, he presents traditional jazz standards in various Latin styles. The band never really breaks free of the traditional Latin jazz styles and into new sounds; however, they do the traditional thing about as good as it gets.

The first set had many remarkable moments. Ortiz’ amazing timbale solo over Frank Foster’s standard “Shiny Stockings,” written for the Count Basie band, was one of the high points of the set.

Sanchez opened up the tune after that with a freely played conga solo that showed off his virtuosic talents. He broke into the Wayne Shorter tune “Ju Ju,” set to a nice 6/8 groove, with an interesting section for Sanchez and Banda to jam together on rattling gourd instruments called shekers, which produced big resonant tones when struck.

David Torres’ piano solo on the ballad “Stella by Starlight” by Victor Young was a beautifully played moment of the first half that provided a nice change of pace from all of the energetic drive of the rest of the half.

The band then moved to the Ray Charles tune “One Mint Julep,” which showed off some of the funk influence on Latin music.

Next on the program was the Latin standard “Conmigo” featuring the talents of Vasquez on the tres, a guitar-like instrument with a metallic buzzing sound, fitting for Latin music.

The second half began with another funk tribute, this time to James Brown, featuring an impressive trombone solo by Torres.

The tributes continued with a string of tunes in honor of the late great Santamar¡a, who just passed away Feb. 1 of this year. Santamar¡a is probably the biggest musical influence on Sanchez.

First they did a great take on the tune “Dolce Amor,” done as a bolero with a great solo by Scott Martin on alto saxophone. Sanchez really got the crowd moving again with “Watermelon Man,” made famous by both Santamar¡a and jazz pianist Herbie Hancock.

Sanchez mentioned that their band would be venturing into the studio again for another recording soon with some of the unrecorded songs heard at the concert.

His latest album–“Latin Spirits,” released in ’01–and other albums have always showcased some of the best talent of Latin jazz music since he first started recording in 1983.