Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Poncho Sanchez Honors John Coltrane’s Influence

courtesy of New World N Jazz Marketing

At the end of last month, conguero Poncho Sanchez released a new album to celebrate the life and music of saxophonist John Coltrane, who would have celebrated his 93rd birthday on September 23. The title of the album is Trane’s Delight; and it is Sanchez’ first new album in seven years, released on the Concord Picante label. It continues his 37-year relationship with Concord, marking his 27th album. Coltrane was one of Sanchez’ earliest interests, a primary source of his early knowledge about jazz. Sanchez thus felt it was time to pay tribute to those influences.

That said, it is important to note that only three of the eleven tracks on the album are Coltrane compositions. These are “Liberia,” “Giant Steps,” and “Blue Train.” The first of these serves as a reminder that, during his lifetime, Coltrane was more inclined to look east to Africa rather than south to its diversity of Latin sources. Thus, this album is basically the gesture of a master of one tradition honoring one rooted in other traditions.

This does not always make for as good a fit as the inquiring listener might expect. Writing as one that has been been following Coltrane since college days (which included a visit by a late Coltrane quartet to my campus), I have to day that, of those three selections, “Blue Train” is the one that fits least comfortably into Sanchez’ context. The tune is there and easily recognized, but the rhythm is another matter. That rhythm cannot be easily reduced to beats and off-beats. One might almost call it the melancholy side of swing; and Sanchez’ approach is just too upbeat to apprehend, let alone realize, that idiosyncratic kind of melancholia. (Mind you, Sanchez has his own rhetoric of melancholy; but it is more evident, and more effective, in his own music, rather than Coltrane’s!)

Similarly, “The Feeling of Jazz” had its origin in the album Duke Ellington & John Coltrane, the only meeting that brought together these two major icons. However “old school” Ellington may have been, he made it a point to keep up on the innovations of his successors. For his part, Coltrane clearly understood Ellington’s approach to making music, going back to the beginning of his career, when he played in a band led by Johnny Hodges, one of the strongest proponents of the Ellington aesthetic. Here, again, the album track is all Sanchez without the slightest hint of either Ellington or Coltrane.

The bottom line, then, is that this is an album for Sanchez fans wondering when his next album would be released. Well, it’s here; and it serves up delicious courses in a feast that those fans are likely to devour with gusto. Coltrane fans, on the other hand, may do well to approach this album a bit more cautiously.

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