Los Angeles - October 25, 2011 ¡Chano Y Dizzy! Poncho and Terrence! This latest album creates the quintessential quartet of creativity with Poncho Sanchez and Terence Blanchard paying homage to Chano Pozo and Dizzy Gillespie in a tribute covering seven incredible decades of musicianship.
In a recent conversation with Poncho Sanchez, he and I chatted about everything which included me seeing him at the Nokia Lounge about three years ago when three trumpet players, who were friends of a friend in the band, just spontaneously happened to sit in that night creating a truly memorable evening, to the spontaneity of Latin music, different kinds of beats in Latin music which define the different genres and lastly, interpreting the innovations of Pozo and Gillespie which have culminated in this album.
"To me, Latin jazz is the world's greatest music," he explained. "What I'm most proud of is that this music -- while it may sound exotic at times -- is from America. It was born in New York City, when Chano Pozo met Dizzy Gillespie for the first time in the mid-1940s. They created something that didn't exist before in this country." Describing how this album is comprised of music either written by or inspired by these two diverse yet so similar historic greats, his goal was to recapture that seminal period from the mid 20th century when cultural and musical elements co-mingled, finally melding to create this enduring sound. Chano Pozo was the first percussionist to join Dizzy Gillespie’s band, and helped ignite what became known as Latin jazz with the with the elements of both inspiring this new sound.
This seemed the perfect opportunity to ask about two of my favorites on this album: the opening medley which consists of "Tin Tin Deo," Manteca" and "Guachi Guaro" (weaving all into a single medley as the leadoff track), and the everlasting and endearing Siboney by Ernesto Lecuona y Casado. The first thing we hear on this album is "Tin Tin Deo" opening with a brief, wild "Ponco" conga solo as if a "call to listen", and then quickly moving into a familiar rhythm with Terence joining in for sixteen bars with some brilliant solo lines, and finally Poncho joining in singing and Terence playing in a dialogue that's accompanied only by the congas - with this they really got you ready, and it's "Guachi Guaro" time. I finally realized after all years that "Guachi Guara" there is no translation because it means absolutely nothing. Poncho laughingly confirmed this and told me some great "Guachi Guaro" stories from Cal Tjader (Poncho's early mentor) when Tjader transformed the Gillespie/Pozo composition into something new which became an enormous hit and Gillespie later thanking Tjader for giving him a big hit.
From this we went on the last of the opening medley trio, "Manteca" (lard). We agreed that just like in a lot of cooking, sometimes something just requires some lard for that extra little something- not mantequilla - that's butter, but lard. "Manteca" was co-written by Dizzy Gillespie and Chano Pozo in 1947. It was one of the first examples of Afro-Cuban influences being incorporated into mainstream jazz and the piece referred to racist tensions in America when Dizzy Gillespie is heard singing, "I'll never go back to Georgia". After "chewing the fat" about this, it was time for "Siboney".
This "Siboney" is one of the most comprehensive renditions of it I've ever heard. Opening with that traditional liquid rhythm of the Cuban rhumba, "Siboney" (Canto Siboney) is a 1929 classic Cuban song by Ernesto Lecuona. The music is in cut time, and that's what it opens with. Having established this, it continues to fluidly move into a piano montuno swing rhythm truly kicking nalgas. Montuno is an accompaniment technique used, and usually played by the piano, which can be described as a repeated syncopated piano vamp; a repeated pattern of notes or chords with syncopated moving inner voices and a differently syncopating bass line, and it sure is here. In fact, in this case it's when "syncopation rules the nation".
This album contains all sorts of other ingredients too that make this such a celebratory kind of album: it's Poncho's 25th Anniversary with Concord, Terry Blanchard's first foray into Latin music in this manner, and for the first time, Poncho and Francisco Torres, long time band member (trombone/vocals), join forces to produce the new album. And, while the album includes songs originally written and performed by the two legends, it also showcases compositions by other writers that capture the flavor of traditional Latin jazz that Sanchez's touring band assists with the songwriting and arranging. The studio ranks include: pianist David Torres, saxophonist Rob Hardt, trumpeter Ron Blake, trombonist/vocalist Francisco Torres, bassist Tony Banda, timbalist George Ortiz, and percussionist Joey De Leon, Jr.
He concluded our conversation by reiterating with great conviction that, "These two musicians were the pioneers of what is now known as Latin jazz," says Sanchez. "Chano Pozo was a genius. He's considered the godfather of conga drummers, and he's someone whom I respect a great deal. And of course, Dizzy Gillespie was an iconic artist in American jazz...these guys were the first musicians to bring elements of Latin music to American jazz - which has resulted in some of the greatest music of the last 50 or 60 years. I felt that it was time to pay tribute to them and their accomplishments." With this self-effacing statement from him, we should pay homage to a great conguero - Pancho Sanchez and trumpet great Terence Blanchard who have just given us the best of the best from the best.
It's all good.