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Five thoughts on Arturo Sandoval at Cabaret Jazz

September 13, 2013

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Renowned jazz musician Arturo Sandoval
Photo: Manny Iriarte

1. The man is just happy to play live music—which he does insanely well: There’s no faking the joy frequently projected from renowned jazz man Arturo Sandoval. From start to finish of his September 13 concert at the Smith Center’s Cabaret Jazz room, the man beamed with ecstasy and pride—that is, when he wasn’t squinting out the sort of intense expressions commonly made by blues guitarists, grooving along to the five musicians around him or restlessly jumping from one musical instrument to another. You could even sense his transcendence when he took a turn at the piano, where he faced away from most of the audience.

But Sandoval didn’t get so caught up in his enthusiasm that he couldn’t perform on point. He effortlessly found his zone whenever he played, especially during the impressive rapid-fire note progressions—matched occasionally by his outstanding saxophonist Zane Musa, who at one point paid homage to legend Stan Getz, and with whom he traded remarkable lead passages during Clifford Brown’s classic, “Joy Spring.”

2. Versatility, thy name is Arturo: Sandoval hopped from trumpet to keyboard to percussion to piano to vocals during the eight-number, 105-minute show. Most of the uptempo songs found the bandleader banging away at his drum and bell pairs. He even added a second layer of keys during one of pianist Mahesh Balasooriya’s invigorating leads. And there was no genre or stylistic stasis or repetition to be found, either. The sextet blended and flirted with several different branches of jazz, especially bop and Afro-Cuban.

3. He can twerk a room: Given all the duties he serves for his band, it’s any wonder he has time to reach the crowd beyond his instrumentation. But there he was, venturing out into the seats with his horn at one point, and telling stories at a few others. One monologue began as a lament for the lack of jazz exposure on network television, but became a hammy riff on modern-day pop stars like Justin “Beaver” and Miley Cyrus, whose infamous MTV Video Music Award performance he mocked with his own version of the booty-protruding, tongue-wagging twerking dance. Another less outrageous anecdote recalled how he longed to play the piano as a young boy living in rural Cuba, but encountered resistance from a culture that stigmatized men who played the ivories.

4. Dizzy Gillespie still looms large in his life: Sandoval twice acknowledged his mentor and friend, famed trumpeter/singer Dizzy Gillespie, who eventually helped arrange the Cuban musician’s defection in 1990. He sang the title-track ballad to his 2012 album Dear Diz (Every Day I Think of You), which included the touching refrain: “You saved my life/you set me free.” And then he lead an equally epic and explosive fusion interpretation of Dizzy’s classic, “A Night in Tunisia”—”I’ve played it for years, I play it every day, and it’s still fun,” he said during the introduction—which may have been worth the ticket price alone.

5. The ticket says 7 p.m. for a reason, apparently: Even Musa was late, rushing from the rear of the venue to join his already playing bandmates onstage at 7:01 p.m. It was bad enough the evening show was scheduled during most people’s dinnertime, but what jazz concert starts right on time, anyway?

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