Arturo Sandoval @ Musical Instrument Museum| 9/14/12
It took all of eight minutes for jazz trumpeter Arturo Sandoval to lead his band into a driving Latin jazz tempo, one that would remain for most of the evening. Following slow warm-up featuring Sandoval and his keyboardist gently feeling out their instruments, Sandoval, with a nod, signaled the rest of the combo--drummer, percussionist, bassist and saxophonist--it was time to play.
The track gradually picked up speed and had it not been for the seats at the Musical Instrument Museum venue, most everyone surely would have been dancing. During the opening number each band member worked in a quick solo with the saxophonist pushing his solo into the free jazz realm.
Sandoval, for his part, made it obvious why he's won six Grammy Awards, bending and twisting around and over his trumpet on his way to a beautiful solo. Nary was there a bad note all night, in fact, as Sandoval exploited the true range of instrument, going high or low as the song demanded before the near-sell-out crowd.
Sandoval also proved to be something of a comedian. "Now we're going to do something real upbeat," he said to rousing laughter following the first song. Later in the performance Sandoval told a few jokes while chatting up the crowd. "In Spanish I could be a comedian," he joked. "In English...well, we'll see." In most situations, this banter would have been fine. It, despite the laughs from the crowd, this was time away from the music the audience came to hear. Given that the show was only a paltry 70 minutes long, another song--or just some longer solos somewhere--would have made better sense.
The comedy portion aside, Sandoval and band beautifully displayed the heart, soul and sensuality of Latin jazz. An understudy of Dizzy Gillespie, Sandoval's set was heavily weighted with Gillespie numbers, including "Birk's Works" and the show closing "Night in Tunisia," both features on Sandoval's latest album of Gillespie compositions, Dear Diz (Everyday I Think of You).
"Birk's Works" began with a slow sultry intro, a dark, back alley vibe that slowly built into a rousing romp of pulsing keys, squawking sax and walking bass with Sandoval's popping fills.
Sandoval, who occasionally played a small keyboard placed near the trumpet microphone, showed his vocal diversity as well in singing praises to his mentor with the new album's title track. While touching in his devotion to the late horn player, the soft jazz ballad was a little cheesy and tepid, and broke the more frenetic pace of the previous material.
Sandoval made up for this with the next number, which featured a maraca solo beyond compare. "You never seen anything like this," he warned the crowd beforehand. A maraca solo? His warming was justified because after a slow piano intro, maraca hell broke loose as Samuel Torres in all his shakes, shimmies and gyrating demonstrated the unlikely and devastatingly amazing versatility of the hand-held shakers.
"A Night in Tunisia," Gillespie's signature tune, closed out the proceeds, moving the piece gradually from a North African mood to a Latin fiesta of alternating horn solos, layered keyboard runs and darting percussive movements. It was a brilliant close to a short but masterful performance.
Critic's Notebook: Last Night: Legendary Latin jazz trumpeter Arturo Sandoval. Personal bias: A longtime fan of Latin jazz. The crowd: A mixed crowd of children, hip jazz fans and some who probably saw Dizzy Gillespie in his heyday. Random notebook dump: He could not be a comedian, even in Spanish, with jokes like those. Overheard: On the way out, "I wish I could have stood up to dance."