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JAZZ REVIEW : Sanchez Gives a Strong Close to Long Beach Fest


Poncho Sanchez is the Jim Gott of jazz festivals. Like the Dodger relief pitcher, Sanchez is a strong closer, able to maintain the win, or pull a triumph out of the fire if what's preceded him has fizzled, as he did earlier this summer at the Playboy Jazz Festival.

So, in a last-minute schedule swap with vocalist Lou Rawls, Sanchez and his seven-piece Latin jazz ensemble finished off Sunday's third installment of the sixth annual Long Beach Jazz Festival held at the city's Rainbow Lagoon Park next to the Long Beach Arena. The move was a wise one, as the Sanchez octet sent the estimated crowd of 8,000 home dancing.

Unencumbered by the straitjacket of guest musicians, as he was during the Playboy appearance, the conga-pounding Sanchez turned in a strong set of salsa and standards (Mongo Santamaria's "Afro-Blue," Dizzy Gillespie's "Night in Tunisia") as well as a percussion-loaded medley of James Brown tunes. As usual, his band was seamlessly tight and full of stirring improvisations, most notably from trombonist Andy Martin and trumpeter Sal Cracchiolo.

Vocalist Rawls presented a predictable set of soul and R&B with little in the way of anything new. But that was just fine with his audience, who could often be heard singing along with such Rawls standbys as "Tobacco Road" and "You're Going to Miss My Lovin'." The singer's manly tone has grown a bit huskier in the last few years but maintains the same caramel-coated character that set hearts aflutter in the '60s.

While the fest's first two days contrasted pop and jazz extremes, the bulk of the closing day's program struck a middle-of-the-road approach with a variety of fusion and crossover acts.

Trombonist Wayne Henderson got everyone moving with his "Just Because It's Jazz, Doesn't Mean You Can't Dance," a funky outing featuring Henderson's vocal rap. Roy Ayers, playing an electronic version of the vibraphone, also got the crowd up with his "Everybody Loves the Sunshine." Fattburger gave a pleasantly melodic but undemanding set of percussive-rich fusion.

The day's most musical moments came from fluegelhornist Hugh Masekela, whose infectious township-jive rhythms fit smoothly into the program. His haunting "Stimala," a tune inspired by the chugging of trains carrying workers to South Africa's mines, was the day's most moving experience.

The opening set from drummer Al Williams' Birdland All Stars with vocal trio the New Age Jazz Singers and vocalist Li'l Joe Dobbins was a toe-tapping look back at the kind of jazz that inspired both the pop and fusion movements.

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