Raise Your Hand
First Appeared in The Music Box, July 2007, Volume 14, #7
Written by Douglas Heselgrave
Thu July 5, 2007, 05:30 AM CDT
Raise Your Hand, the 22nd album of Poncho Sanchezís career, is a curious affair. On the effort, the legendary conga player teams up with several of the greatest musicians from the Stax labelís heyday in the 1960s. The result is a nostalgic collection of songs that honors the music from the era, but still finds room to expand upon the Latin musicianís trademark sound.
When heard in sequence, from start to finish, Raise Your Hand sounds like a well-executed but thoroughly disorganized hodgepodge. While the playing is singularly wonderful ó and Sanchezís rock-solid conga keeps things moving ó often the trademark Stax sound ó as characterized by Booker Tís organ and Steve Cropperís soulfully minimalist guitar playing ó feels like an afterthought. Even saxophone great Maceo Parkerís contributions to Shotgun and Maceoís House, two of the discís stronger tracks, are embellishments rather than essential components of the songs. While the connections between Latin and soul music surely exist, the way that they are thrown together on Raise Your Hand feels generic and forced rather than like a natural progression or sharing of traditions.
When Sanchez sticks closely to traditional Latin jazz ó on Tropi Blue and Rosarito, for example ó the music takes off, and the stylistic breadth and soulfulness of his playing are made evident. Here, the interplay between the trumpet, piano, and congas is magical, innovative, and truly moving. On these tracks, it is easy to see why Sanchezís group is the most popular Latin band in the world today.
Born in Texas and raised in Los Angeles by Mexican-immigrant parents, Sanchez is the recipient of one Grammy award and several other nominations. He also was voted the best Latin jazz percussionist for each of the last three years in the Downbeat and Jazz Times readersí polls. Sanchez began his professional career in 1975 when he joined respected vibraphonist Cal Tjaderís ensemble, with which he remained as its percussionist until the bandleaderís death in 1982. He subsequently formed his own group, which has released an album nearly every year since then for the Concord label. His own style is grounded in Afro-Cuban traditions, but he frequently has crossed over into other styles, such as bebop and funk.
In many ways, Raise Your Hand simply continues Sanchezís search for interesting sounds to merge with his own distinctive conga rhythms, but unlike many of his previous forays outside of Latin music, the disc is ultimately unremarkable. Rather than hearing the band and its admittedly stellar lineup of guests jump into a workout of tired standards like Knock on Wood, it would have been nice to hear these legendary performers venture deep into territory that was new and challenging. As it stands, Raise Your Hand is much less than the sum of its formidable parts. Those wanting to experience Sanchezís music for the first time would be better served by exploring his early classic recordings, such as Poncho at Montreux or Conga Blue.
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2007 The Music Box