Saturday, January 19, 2019


Poncho Sanchez
Long live John Coltrane! That’s what the Detroit saxophonist James Carter yelled to a capacity crowd Friday evening at the Paradise Jazz Series at Detroit’s Orchestra Hall minutes before he performed a soul-numbing solo set of some of Coltrane’s signature works. The concert was the third of the 2019 series, featuring a double-bill with Carter and Latin jazz honcho the multi-percussionist Poncho Sanchez and his Latin jazz band. Both Carter and Sanchez were there to pay tribute to Coltrane. The audience got to witness the breadth of Carter’s virtuosity as he put Coltrane’s “Blue Train," ”Naima,” and “ My Favorite Things,” a standard that Coltrane immortalized, through death-defying improvisational feats.  This solo outing wasn’t the first time Carter has tackled Coltrane’s music solo. Carter gave a similar performance two years back in Philadelphia as part of Coltrane’s 90th birthday celebration. The footage is available on YouTube. Carter had the audience wrapped around his horns the entire set, but 30  minutes into making his horns honk, squeal, pop and signify, the improvisational horseplay became redundant, and I felt as if I was watching Carter in the throes of an unnecessarily long practice session. Strangely, though the concert was billed as a salute to Coltrane, neither Carter nor Poncho Sanchez said nary a word about Coltrane's influence on them musically or otherwise. Not one  single word  uttered by the musicians about Coltrane’s massive and lasting stamp on jazz. Sanchez was all over the place, opening his hour-plus set with “Blue Train,” followed by “Trane’s Delight,” the title cut from his upcoming album. From that point Sanchez’s set veered left, but not necessarily in a bad way. The music was wholesome, even delicious at times, and Sanchez’s band was tighter than Super Glue. The band has been together a whopping 35 years. Although the set was supposed to be all about Coltrane, Sanchez didn’t play hardly enough of Coltrane’s music, no "Cousin Mary," no "A Love Supreme,"  no "Alabama" no "Giant Steps". Coltrane favorites you wouldn't be wrong to expect for a Coltrane tribute. Instead, there were some original compositions by Sanchez’s bandmates and a medley of Sanchez’s music. Oddly, what aroused the audience most was the band’s Latin-infused take of a James Brown number. Had me wondering if Sanchez was attempting to make some Coltrane and James Brown connection. And, of course, it wouldn’t have been a Sanchez show without working in some obligatory Salsa music and dancing. To Sanchez’s credit, the audience was all in. Nonetheless, the performance came up short of remotely resembling a John Coltrane tribute.