There’s no way that master conguero Poncho Sanchez knew that a recently discovered, unreleased John Coltrane album would hit the streets on the same day of his tribute to the saxophone icon. He did time it to coincide with the late icon’s 93rd birthday, however. Nonetheless, we’re blessed to hear Coltrane, or versions thereof, at any time. On Trane’s Delight, Sanchez’s first album in seven years, the Latin jazz pioneer pays homage to one of his earliest influences with Latin-tinged re-imaginings of three Coltrane classics as well as two tunes composed in honor of the tenor giant, together with three non-Coltrane-related Latin tunes, some with vocals. Similar Latin jazz efforts have been done before, at least one that this writer is aware of, the excellent trombonist Conrad Herwig’s The Latin Side of John Coltrane (1996). That was an entire album of Coltrane compositions while this has some Trane and some others in over an hour’s worth of music.
Sanchez sallies forth with his nine-piece longtime band that features trombonist and musical director Francisco Torres, trumpet and flugelhornist Ron Blake, saxophonist Robert Hardt, pianist Andy Langham, bassists Rene Camacho and Ross Schodek, and fellow percussionists Joey DeLeon and Giancarlo Anderson.
Sanchez has remarkably been with the Concord label for 37 years and has issued, with this, 27 albums. The 67-year-old can still remember as an 11-year-old staring at the blue-tinged 1962 album, simply titled Coltrane. He recalls that he had eyeballed the album for a month until he had enough money to buy it. He also claims that he listened to the first track, “Out of This World” for years. Now, more than a half-century later, we have Sanchez putting that joyous Latin spin on “Liberia,” the Blue Note classic “Blue Train” rendered as a cha-cha, and a rumba twist in his interpretation of “Giant Steps,” taken at breakneck speed. Collaborating with Torres, Sanchez penned two pieces inspired by Trane, the title track highlighted by DeLeon’s rambunctious timbale solo and the other tune titled “Yam mote, words for the same food, yams and camote.
Sanchez relates this story about that tune. “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 coughing and 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 into 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 camotes that 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.”
There’s another tune that serves as a bridge, the Ellington composed “The Feeling of Jazz,” which appeared on the 1963 Duke Ellington & John Coltrane and features beautiful soloing from Torres and Camacho. Interspersed are the other non-Coltrane tunes, beginning with “Soul Bourgeoisie,” composed by Hubert Laws and first recorded by The Jazz Crusaders on their 1965 Chile Con Soul. This upbeat tune, spotlighting saxophonist Hardt sets the animated tone for the album. Sanchez steps forward for a vocal on the classic bolero tune “Si Te Dicen,” hearkening back to Joe Cuba’s 1966 version that featured vocalist Cheo Feliciano. Pianist Langham penned “Sube,” *translated to ‘ascend’ or ‘go up’), a burner imbued by the sparkling kalimba playing of guest Cornelius Alfredo Duncan Jr., a friend of Sanchez for over 40 years. The “Poncho Sanchez Medley #2” combines three old favorites from 1979’s Poncho and the disc closes with “Todo Termino,” written by Booby Marique and immortalized by another Sanchez idol, the Puerto Rican singer and bandleader Tito Rodriguez. He invited standout Los Angeles salsa singer Norell Thomson to front the band.
Sanchez had plenty to say, considering his seven-year hiatus. He reached back to his past, paid tribute to a few idols, mainly Trane, had a band member contribute a tune, and invited some key guests. That’s the way to make up some lost time.