Poncho Sanchez's Latin Jazz Band arrived on stage at La Ve Lee Friday night with the relaxed, self-confident swagger of road-hardened veterans. The eight-piece band, with its forceful three-horn section and equally robust three-man percussion grouping, was taking a break from its constant touring and in rare form, delivering a performance fully justifying its Grammy Award-winning reputation as one of the premiere Latin jazz bands.
The appearance embraced all the elements that make the Sanchez band so popular with such a wide range of fans. There were occasional salsa numbers ("Baila Baila") usually featuring Sanchez's appealing vocals, steaming Latin jazz numbers ("Sambroso") in which the horn section stepped into the spotlight, and catchy, rhythmic soul-styled numbers (the whimsical "Subway Harry"). There was a slow-dance rendering of a familiar standard ("The Nearness of You," featuring the smooth trombone lines of Francisco Torres) and a stunning example of Sanchez's practice of developing a new take on a classic jazz line--in this case, Wayne Shorter's "Ju Ju," in a powerful arrangement by keyboardist and music director David Torres.
In each case, the music was rendered with an extraordinary combination of spirit, drive and sheer musicality. The Sanchez Latin Jazz band is a stunning ensemble, working together with fluid ease, as well as an assemblage of impressive soloists. And both characteristics were on full display. In addition to Torres' imaginative work, trumpeter Sal Cracchiolo offered stratospheric soloing, and Scott Martin was effective on both alto and tenor saxophones. The percussion team of Papo Rodriguez and Ramon Banda matched Sanchez's conga stylings and, in an exceptionally stirring moment, joined with him (and bassist Tony Banda) in a spectacular demonstration of four-gourd rhythm making.
This beautifully crafted combination of elements--foot-tapping salsa rhythms for the pop listeners in the crowd, convincing blends of jazz and Cuban rhythms for the jazz aficionados--was the stuff of intelligent, first-class music making. And, in this genre, no one does it better than the Sanchez Latin Jazz Band.
* The Poncho Sanchez Latin Jazz Band appears at B.B. King's in Universal City on Thursday, (818) 622-5464. The band returns to La Ve Lee, 12514 Ventura Blvd., on Saturday, (818) 980-8158.