Saturday night Penelope and I caught Arturo Sandoval's concert at Herbst, a holdover from SFJAZZ's fall season rescheduled from its original October date. I should say Penelope unequivocally loved this show, and it appears everyone else did too, but I found it only mildly satisfying. Certainly not bad- Sandoval's band- the tremendous Ed Calle on sax, Manuel Valera on piano (who has one of the best left hands I've ever heard), Alexis Arce on drums and Armando Arce on percussion are all crack musicians. I was more ambivalent about six-string bassist Dewayne Pate, whose amp was initially way too loud in the mix and whose playing sometimes often sounded hyper-busy, especially in the first set.
But let me tell you what was undeniably great- Sandoval is a master of the trumpet, with a range and tone beyond anyone else I've ever heard. What he can do with it is close to astonishing. He's also an incredibly warm, welcoming, generous, humorous performer, with zero pretense- at times this show felt like we were all hanging out at Arturo's house on a Sunday afternoon with his pals. This was magnified by Sandoval's decision to not only play the horn, but the piano, an electric keyboard, timbales, he sang, he danced, he did the human beat-box. Really. He brought eleven year Gabriel Angelo come up onstage and play "Moon River" (the kid was great and Sandoval promised he'd send him a cornet).
He and the band played with an air of spontaneity that one should expect from proponents of Be Bop yet it also felt as if everyone knew where they were in the music at all times. So far all this should sound great, right? Yet I found the set list weighted far too heavily on bop and slower tunes, with things really only heating up Latin-style toward the end, which was disappointing to me but nobody else really seemed to mind. My other quibble is while Sandoval can do all the other instruments and routines well- or at least be entertaining while doing them, he's best at the horn. But it's his show, and after performing for almost 50 years, who's going to deny him? Not me.