Review by J Hunter
Photographs by Rudy Lu
Arturo Sandoval was wearing an untucked black t-shirt and loose-fitting black pants as he worked over the timbale with an Allen wrench, occasionally hitting the instrument with a drum stick to see if the sound and tightness was anywhere near what he wanted; when it wasn’t, he went right back to work with the wrench, looking for all the world like a guy in a garage on a Saturday afternoon. The trouble was that it was Friday night, he was on the Mainstage at Proctors, his quintet was in full-tilt Latin Jazz mode, and his pianist Kemuel Roig was halfway through a pretty hot solo.
As it turned out, Sandoval’s drummer Alexis Arce usually tightens Sandoval’s timbale after the band finishes their sound-check… except there had been no sound-check that afternoon, because Arce developed chest pains on the way to the gig, and was currently under observation at a local hospital. Nate Coyne was truly a local hero when he subbed for Arce at the last minute. “We’re gonna do our regular show,” Sandoval told us after admitting he’d just learned his new drummer’s name. “Nate, you play what you can…”
Coyne smiled back at his new leader as the crowd laughed, but you knew the drummer (who’d subbed for Joe Barna while he was recovering from carpal-tunnel syndrome) had to be thinking, “Holy shit! This is REALLY HAPPENING!” Happily, Coyne caught everything Sandoval threw at him over the 90-minute set, and bassist Dennis Marks kept Coyne filled with information as Sandoval knocked us all out with a mix of Latin standards and jazz classics either recorded or inspired by his beloved mentor, the late John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie. “We owe him a lot of respect,” Sandoval told us before performing the title track from his new Concord release Dear Diz (Every Day I Think of You).
Dear Diz just won three of the seven Grammys it was nominated for, and the love Sandoval put into the soft, bluesy take on “Birks’ Works” was quite visible as he walked the stage, playing his muted horn into a wireless microphone. Sandoval also gave Clifford Brown some love with a cool bopping take on “Joy of Spring” that rose above the sound and monitor problems the band suffered through for most of the set. At one point, Sandoval apologized to the audience for what he felt was a sub-standard performance. “You want to be prepared,” he opined, even as audience members shouted that he shouldn’t apologize, because he sounded great.
And he did, and so did his band. Roig tries a little too hard to be Michel Camilo, and some of his solos tend towards the overcomplicated, but you can clearly hear the skills, and one hopes experience may overcome Roig’s youthful exuberance. Ed Calle may look like a more formally dressed Jerry Gonzalez, but he’s a tenor sax player, not a trumpeter, and he had the chops and the juice to stay with Sandoval all night long… which (given that Sandoval has the kind of mind-bending power normally associated with his late mentor) is truly saying something. Another powerhouse was conguero Samuel Torres, who hit several home runs with his own group at Lake George Jazz Weekend a few years ago. At this show, Torres brought the scintillating flavor that let Coyne keep his contributions safely vanilla and earn plaudits from Sandoval at the end of the evening. (“You were in the hot seat tonight,” Sandoval told him, applauding the visibly tickled Coyne.) While Torres’ own moment in the clear on congas was as masterful as we expected, his best moment came during a multi-colored duet with Sandoval – Torres on maracas, and Sandoval on piano.
That’s right, Sandoval plays piano – and damn good piano, to boot. In fact, he refers to himself as “a frustrated piano player who plays the trumpet!” But that’s not all: Sandoval played a solid organ solo on “Birks,” and he added organ and synth fills to some of Roig’s solos; when the timbale stopped sounding like tympani, Sandoval played a raging counter to Roig and Calle; and he sang “Every Day I Think of You” in a light, hoarse voice that was unpolished but real.
At the end of the day, though, it’s all about the trumpet, which Sandoval used to blow us all away on the righteous show closer “A Night in Tunisia.” It was straight Latin jazz to start, but both Sandoval and Calle put their own personal stamps on the piece during respective (and memorable) turns in the clear. Arturo Sandoval’s day may have been chaotic, to say the least, and he may not have been as prepared as he might have liked. Even so, he and his band brought the kind of thunder Dizzy would have approved of.
More of Rudy Lu’s photographs at Albany Jazz
Excerpt from Michael Hochanadel’s review at The Daily Gazette: “When he [Sandoval] wasn’t his own roadie, he played great and led the band enthusiastically through bebop with a Cuban accent. He was equal parts Dizzy Gillespie, Tito Puente, Jimmy Smith, McCoy Tyner and Bobby McFerrin; and as much an entertainer as an artist. In other words, he played trumpet, timbales, synthesizer emulating a B3 organ, and piano — and he sang both skats and instrument simulations. He was so full of music, he sang like every instrument in his sextet, and more. They started in bop-ville, the note-busy land of Diz and Bird, both Sandoval and sax-man Ed Calle running confidently and fast through the full catalog of tricks and techniques, sounds and styles of their horns. They fluttered and stuttered, swaggered, soared and screamed, and sank low with deep whomps and stomps — and didn’t stop for 20 minutes. In Diz’s ‘Birks Works,’ Sandoval muted his trumpet, but not his spirit, echoing some familiar Dizzy riffs, especially in the low register, and dropped in a synth-organ solo at the end. They set up a lively clave rhythm next, Sandoval repeating the main riff in restless staccato blasts and Calle matching his fire with probing, insistent phrases, then Sandoval moving to timbales and singing.”