Legendary trompetista Arturo Sandoval just got his fourth Latin Grammy, for his Telarc debut Rumba Palace. The name's taken from his new Miami nightclub, and his Overture Center show is being billed as "Arturo Sandoval and his Mambo Mania Big Band." It's the wrong sound for a concert hall, where it's usually verboten to boogie - though you can rumba on the sly in Overture's cushy seats.
Mambo's far from Sandoval's sole groove. Like all the great Cuban players, he's got prodigious range. He's a bebop/hard-bop wizard - listen to him rip on his own Dizzy Gillespie-like composition "Real McBop" from his Live at the Blue Note album, or swing through "Blue Monk" on Straight Ahead, a glorious recording with the great Chucho Valdés on piano. Sandoval regularly plays with major symphony orchestras - his last performance here was with the MSO.
"I love all kinds of music," Sandoval says. "But it doesn't matter where I go or who I play with - I'll be Cuban for the rest of my days."
The kid who grew up playing son in a small town on Havana's outskirts became a post-revolutionary superstar in the '70s, along with Valdés and Paquito D'Rivera. All three were founding members of Havana's breakaway band Irakere in the '70s.
Gillespie discovered Sandoval playing a Havana gig with Irakere in '77. "Dizzy was like a gift from God to me," Sandoval says. "He was a very good friend. He gave me a lot of opportunities."
Sandoval was touring with Gillespie when he defected to the States in 1990. Today it's Sandoval who's providing opportunities for the next generation. The sidemen in the Rumba Palace "little big band," a sextet, are all Cuban expat proto-stars. Two - saxman Felipe Lamoglia and bass player Armando Gola - were here at the Barrymore with Gonzalo Rubalcaba in '05. Timberos Tomás Cruz (percussion) and Alexis Arce (drums), plus Tony Pérez, who played piano with Irakere in the late '90s, round out the sound.
The tunes on Rumba Palace aren't all mambos. There's a lot of Latin hard bop on "Sexy Lady"; Sandoval swaps his lightning chops for a languid solo on the bluesy ballad "Peaceful." And though he's bringing the same band, Sandoval says this isn't the Rumba Palace tour. "Of course, I'll play some tunes off it, but I play a lot of different standards. I'll get up on stage and play what I want to play."
Don't be surprised if Sandoval honors Gillespie with "Manteca." Maybe he'll play the son-based "Waheera" off his 1995 CD Latin Train, practically an anthem when Ricardo Gonzalez hosts "La Junta" on WORT, or "Suavito," the classic cha cha cha on Danzón. The title cut on Rumba Palace, a steady mid-tempo mambo, will get your mauve-cushioned seat warmed up. But watch out if Sandoval selects "A Gozar" and "Huracán del Caribe," both straight-up, flat-out salsa dura. If that doesn't bring out Overture's dance police, I don't know what will.