On his first new album in seven years, GRAMMY Award-winning conguero Poncho Sanchez celebrates the life and music of the iconic saxophonist John Coltrane. Due out September 20, 2019 via Concord Picante, Trane’s Delight is a love letter from one musical pioneer to another, as the Latin Jazz legend pays homage to one of his earliest and most indelible influences. The joyous album arrives just in time for the late tenor titan’s 93rd birthday on September 23.
Throughout his career Sanchez has held aloft the torch lit by such Latin Jazz innovators as Mongo Santamaria, Tito Puente and Cal Tjader, embraced by each of those icons and entrusted to carry forward the traditions of Latin Jazz. But Sanchez’s influences are numerous, and Coltrane looms large in Sanchez’s pantheon alongside those pioneers. On his latest album Trane’s Delight, Sanchez pays tribute to the late jazz legend with Latin-tinged reimaginings of Coltrane classics as well as new pieces composed in honor of the tenor titan.
“I’ve always loved John Coltrane,” Sanchez says, “ever since I was a kid and first learned about jazz. I’ve recorded tributes to a lot of my heroes in life – Mongo Santamaria, Tito Puente, Cal Tjader – so I thought it was definitely time to do a tribute to the great John Coltrane.”
Trane’s Delight also continues Sanchez’s remarkable 37-year relationship with Concord, a rich legacy that has now yielded 27 albums. The album features the conguero’s longtime band, featuring trombonist and musical director Francisco Torres, trumpet and flugelhorn master Ron Blake, saxophonist Robert Hardt, pianist Andy Langham, bassists Rene Camacho and Ross Schodek, and percussionists Joey DeLeon and Giancarlo Anderson.
The 11-track album features three classic Coltrane compositions and a pair of new compositions written in honor of the sax master, alongside a host of original pieces and classic favorites chosen to represent Sanchez’s wide spectrum of influences. At its heart, though, Trane’s Delight provides a direct link from the 67-year old conguero to his 11-year old self, staring in the window of his local record store at the entrancing, blue-tinged cover of the 1962 album Coltrane.
“I had eyeballed this record for about a month, looking at it with not enough money to buy it,” Sanchez recalls. “I played a couple little gigs around town and saved up the money, so it was the first album I ever bought by myself. I used to have a little space in my mother’s garage with my record player and my drums and congas. I put that record on, and that first track, ‘Out of This World,’ kicked in and I was blown away. I listened to that record daily for years.”
The wonder with which Sanchez first heard Coltrane’s singular voice is still present more than a half-century later in his vibrant reimagining of the saxophonist’s compositions. Trane’s Delight features a buoyant Latin spin on “Liberia,” from 1964’s Coltrane’s Sound; the classic “Blue Train” rendered as a cha-cha-chá; and a rumba twist on the immortal “Giant Steps,” that perennial proving ground for jazz musicians, its challenge not only embraced by Sanchez’s virtuosic collaborators but taken at a breakneck pace that leaves no room for trepidation.
In collaboration with Torres, Sanchez also penned two brand-new pieces inspired by Coltrane. The bustling title tune is a lively encapsulation of the saxophonist’s adventurous spirit, highlighted by DeLeon’s rollicking timbale solo. “Yam’mote,” meanwhile, coins a new hybrid term combining two cultures’ words for the same food: yams and camote. The music, as warm as the comfort food that it references, was inspired by another of the young Sanchez’s brushes with his idol.
“When I was in high school, I would lay in bed listening to Los Angeles’ jazz radio station,” he says. “One night, the DJ announced, ‘Tomorrow I’m going to interview John Coltrane at 11am.’ It was during the week, but I had to hear this interview, so the next day I woke up and started coughingand told my mother that I didn't feel good, so I didn't have to go to school that day. It ended up being a short interview, but the part that stuck with me the most was at the very end. The host asked Trane his favorite food. My ears grew huge and I leaned in to the radio, thinking he’d say BBQ ribs or fried chicken or something, but he said sweet potato pie.”
Dumbstruck, Sanchez asked his mother if she knew how to make sweet potato pie. Instead, she offered to make the candied camotesthat is a favorite dish in Mexico and across Central America. “I ate that camote every day for like two weeks because I loved John Coltrane,” Sanchez laughs. “I just thank God that he didn't say dog food, because I would’ve run out and got some dog food. That’s how much he meant to me.”
As always with Sanchez’s wide-ranging interests, Trane’s Delight casts its sonic net much wider than just Coltrane’s sphere of influence. The blissful Duke Ellington composition “The Feeling of Jazz,” provides a bridge: the lovely, relaxed tune, here featuring eloquent turns by Torres and Camacho, was recorded on 1963’s Duke Ellington & John Coltrane, the sole meeting of the two jazz icons.
Trane’s Delight opens with “Soul Bourgeoisie,” a Hubert Laws composition originally recorded by the Jazz Crusaders on their 1965 album Chile Con Soul. Featuring a soulful Hardt solo, the upbeat tune sets the exuberant tone for the album. The classic bolero “Si Te Dicen” slows things down to an elegant sway, with Sanchez’s heartfelt vocal harkening back to Joe Cuba’s 1966 version featuring singer Cheo Feliciano.
Pianist Andy Langham contributed “Sube” (which translates as “ascend” or “go up”), a bristling 6/8 piece ornamented by the mesmerizing kalimba playing of Cornelius Alfredo Duncan Jr. Sanchez befriended the percussionist more than 40 years ago, and reconnected when he saw a YouTube video of Duncan playing the African thumb piano. He immediately reconnected with his old friend and invited him to join the band for the occasion.
A sequel to the medley of classic tunes that appeared on the conguero’s last release, Live in Hollywood, “Poncho Sanchez Medley #2” combines three old favorites: “Baila Mi Gente,” from 1979’s Poncho, which Sanchez cites as his first original composition; “El Sabrosón,” co-written by Sanchez’s longtime pianist and musical director, the late David Torres; and “El Shing-A-Ling,” a song born from Sanchez’s impromptu singing in a Fayetteville, Arkansas convenience store.
The album closes with “Todo Termino,” a song written by Bobby Manrique and immortalized by another Sanchez idol, the great Puerto Rican singer and bandleader Tito Rodríguez. For the occasion he invited the Los Angeles vocalist Norell Thomson, a standout voice on the city’s salsa scene, to front the ensemble.
Ultimately, Trane’s Delight offers a tribute not only to the stellar music and influence of the great John Coltrane, but a spotlight for the myriad ways that the tenor giant’s explorations have fueled courageous artists like Poncho Sanchez. The results, as on this passionate new album, would no doubt delight Trane’s searching spirit.