Short but sweet: Poncho and his band played a short yet enjoyable set at the Fairmont Southampton Resort. <em>*Photo supplied</em>
Short but sweet: Poncho and his band played a short yet enjoyable set at the Fairmont Southampton Resort. *Photo supplied

WEDNESDAY, JAN. 23: “It was too short,” complained one punter at the Mid-Ocean Amphitheatre. She was, it must be said, smiling — a lot.

If the old mantra “always leave them wanting more” is a measure of a good gig, then Poncho Sanchez and his Latin Jazz Band have got it sewn up.

The Grammy–award winning conguero was, he proudly told the Fairmont Southampton audience, recently awarded a lifetime achievement gong at the Latin Grammys.

For anyone not previously aware, here was a veteran heavyweight of his genre.

Taking centre stage, his striking grey beard and pork pie hat immediately drew your attention. Now 61, Sanchez is a cool customer.

Talented

And as the band limbered up through their opener — a John Coltrane number — it was also clear he’d assembled a staggeringly-talented group of musicians, who took their lead from trombonist and musical director Franciso Torres.

After Friday’s performance emphasized the group’s salsa roots, Saturday night’s show leaned heavily on straight-up jazz. A medley from the band’s past recordings — Sanchez has been nominated eight times for a Latin Grammy and has released 28 albums — was followed by a reworking of legend Dizzy Gillespie’s Groovin’ High, notable for a head-nodding bass solo by Rene Camacho.

Slowly But Surely, an Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers tune, again showcased the nimble finger work and complex rhythms of Torres, Rob Hardt on saxophone and Ron Blake on trumpet.

Sanchez’s percussion solos arguably topped the lot, however, displaying captivating hand speed that was a blur to the untrained eye, like watching an action scene from The Matrix.

The night’s one salsa piece saw Hardt seamlessly exchanged sax for flute, while Sanchez emerged from behind his congas to take lead vocals.

Having wowed everyone with their jazz craft, it was clearly time to have some fun.

A shouted request from the stalls for Watermelon Man — the Herbie Hancock classic — was gently knocked back as a “$700 dollar request… for each of us” by Sanchez, while Blake was chided by Torres for his lack of golf prowess the previous day.

Sanchez spoke of his love of the Stax Records’ era, name-checking Booker T. & the M.G.’s, Eddie Floyd and Ottis Redding among others before launching into a soulful cover of Floyd’s Raise Your Hand, which had everyone jigging in their seats and, of course, raising their hands.

Time was called after a sublime hour and any serious protests of being short-changed were quashed by an encore featuring… you guessed it, Watermelon Man.

A number of people even got up front to dance.

Another couple of tunes and no-one would have been left sitting down.