The meeting on record of Poncho Sanchez and Terence Blanchard risks a collapse under the weight of names. Not just their own, but the corresponding heroes that inspire the collaboration. Chano Pozo was the first percussionist to join Dizzy Gillespie’s band, an original spark of influence in what became known as Latin jazz, a movement that affected both halves of the term. Rather than pioneers at the point of embarkation, the present collaborators stand at rather august points in their careers. Not surprisingly, their embrace sounds comfortable, an easy interlocking of styles for honest tribute rather than a sweaty grappling with their roots.
A canny interpreter of traditions and imagery, Blanchard pushes things to the decidedly “jazz” end of the relationship, with contemporary horn lines taking some of the bite out of Sanchez’s band. The benefit is some of the cleanest trumpet and congas you’ll hear today. On “Nocturna,” we get stripped down mystery, the kind of short story Blanchard excels at in his masterful soundtrack work. “Arinanara” moves in the opposite direction, conjuring Cuba and the sound that transfixed Diz.
If there’s anything lacking here, it may be the original soil. We find two artists at ease in their exchange and shared vocabulary; here is Latin jazz in perfect form. The sound is a sure-handed culmination of 60 years of music, rather than a risky return to some genesis moment. Hopefully such a well-crafted door will beckon others to pass through and investigate that still-fertile landscape.