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Jazz Review

Sanchez and Sandoval Blast Past Labels

April 24, 2001|DON HECKMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Saxophonist David Sanchez and trumpeter Arturo Sandoval are among the most visible artists in the category generally labeled "Latin jazz." Despite their countries of birth, however (Sanchez is from Puerto Rico, Sandoval from Cuba), it is the caliber of their playing that most distinguishes them. As their performances before a full house at UCLA's Royce Hall Sunday night superbly revealed, Latin jazz has no single definition, its qualities as diverse as the imagination and invention of the players it encompasses.

It's interesting to note, in fact, that both groups were manned by a majority of players from areas beyond the borders of the United States. In the Sanchez Sextet, the countries of origin ranged from the Caribbean to Europe; Sandoval's ensemble contained only a pair of U.S. players.

Yet the pure jazz quality (if there is such a thing) of the music was undeniable, and the skill with which it was rendered was irresistible. The Sanchez group has been working together for several years, and the easy, intuitive symbiosis that can take place between musicians who know and anticipate each other's every move, was constantly apparent--especially in the joined-at-the-hip ensemble interaction between Sanchez and his front-line companion, alto saxophonist Miguel Zenon.

Most of the group's too-brief set traced to music from "Melaza," Sanchez's Grammy-nominated album. Continuing familiarity with the material, however, has developed the interpretations well beyond the performances on the CD. Sanchez, in particular, has expanded his palette, in one case generating a solo that carried him to the outer limits of improvisation, past the chords, into the stratosphere of musical liberation.

Sandoval's program was essentially the same collection of material he has been using for the past year or so, most of it showcasing his extraordinary individual talents. Playing fast, playing high, playing with a nonstop flow of ideas, his trumpet work--like that of his model, Dizzy Gillespie--balanced escalated creativity with an irresistible ability to entertain. Not stopping there, he played piano and timbales and offered a crowd-pleasing collection of his inimitable scat singing. As with Sanchez, it was a musical offering that had less to do with genre or label than with sheer jazz talent.

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