The evening was an experience that those in attendance will not soon forget, as Sanchez kicked off his first of a series of performances at Jazz Alley that culminated with his New Year’s Eve concert. In addition to Sanchez’s superb conga playing, there were outstanding solos from trombonist Francisco Torres. There were several outstanding individual performances by, Joey De León who played numerous percussion instruments including a very large chekere, guiro, and bongos, saxophonist Javier Vergara (tenor/alto), electric upright bass player Tony Banda, pianist/organist David Torres, Georges Ortiz playing the timbales, and trumpeter Ron Blake.
The Sanchez band opened the set with "One Mint Julep," from his CD Out Of Sight (2003). It should go without saying that throughout the entire concert, Sanchez was at the top of his game, as a conga player, but on "One Mint Julep," he was complimented by a soulful organ solo from David Torres, and an equally terrific performance by trombonist Torres.
The band segued into Jerome Kern and Otto Harbach’s standard, "Yesterdays," originally composed in 1935, and sung by Irene Dunne for the movie Roberta, in which she starred along with Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers and Randolph Scott. During Sanchez’s performance, he served up a spectacular, quick-paced solo on his congas, while Vergara delivered some hot tenor sax notes.
Instrumentally, the cover of Wayne Shorter’s "Ju Ju," which Sanchez recorded on his Latin Spirits CD, was perhaps the most intriguing song to come our way, on an evening of splendid music. This may be the first time I have heard an extended solo from someone playing a chekere, but Joey De León held the audience spellbound, and they wildly applauded his efforts, as his solo concluded. The horn section was awesome, and in particular, we enjoyed some big fat alto sax notes. "Ju Ju," was performed in 6/8 time.
My favorite piece during the set was the title track from Poncho Sanchez’s current CD, Raise Your Hand. The cover of the Eddie Floyd hit song brought a tidal wave of passionate gyrating, dancing and clapping from the audience. León moved over to the congas, while Sanchez stood with the microphone in his hand belting out some of the most soulful vocals you will hear performed in a west coast club. The horns were emotive, the band was swaying and the crowd was doing what the singer asked, raising their hands.
From "Raise Your Hand," onward, the crowd never sat down, and they were still standing when Sanchez and his ensemble returned to the stage to perform their encore "Besame Mama," which first appeared on his Conga Blues album in 1995, and later was recorded for the Latin Soul CD.