If jazz is about adapting, give Arturo Sandoval a medal for flexing farther than anybody should have to.
On Friday on Proctors, the Cuban trumpeter played with drummer Nate Coyne subbing for the suddenly hospitalized Alexis Arce. They started late, without a soundcheck, and it showed. Half the microphones failed and Sandoval patiently rearranged things throughout the 90-minute show.
When he wasn’t his own roadie, he played great and led the band enthusiastically through bebop with a Cuban accent. He was equal parts Dizzy Gillespie, Tito Puente, Jimmy Smith, McCoy Tyner and Bobby McFerrin; and as much an entertainer as an artist. In other words, he played trumpet, timbales, synthesizer emulating a B3 organ, and piano — and he sang both skats and instrument simulations. He was so full of music, he sang like every instrument in his sextet, and more.
They started in bop-ville, the note-busy land of Diz and Bird, both Sandoval and sax-man Ed Calle running confidently and fast through the full catalog of tricks and techniques, sounds and styles of their horns. They fluttered and stuttered, swaggered, soared and screamed, and sank low with deep whomps and stomps — and didn’t stop for 20 minutes. In Diz’s “Birks Works,” Sandoval muted his trumpet, but not his spirit, echoing some familiar Dizzy riffs, especially in the low register, and dropped in a synth-organ solo at the end.
They set up a lively clave rhythm next, Sandoval repeating the main riff in restless staccato blasts and Calle matching his fire with probing, insistent phrases, then Sandoval moving to timbales and singing.
Referring to the tech troubles, Sandoval said, “I’m sorry it’s not my 100 percent night,” but he’s about 120 percent of even a super trumpeter, to say nothing of his other skills, and when everybody could hear each other onstage so things stayed in balance and in the groove, it was formidable. For example, Clifford Brown’s “Joy Spring” after Sandoval’s apology packed an average concert’s worth of trouble into just one tune. Yet when all the mics worked, the band just triumphed on this great song.
Sandoval played piano with percussionist Samuel Torres’ frantic maracas in “Suena,” after describing his musical childhood and love-hate relationship with the trumpet — he could have played an entire show at the piano. “Dear Diz, Every Day I Think of You” both slowed the tempo and warmed the show, a soft ballad tribute to Dizzy Gillespie that Sandoval first sang in simple sincerity, then used as a launching pad for split-the-sky trumpet outbursts, while pianist Kemuel Roig took over the drums.
Dizzy’s bebop classic “A Night in Tunisia” brought more fireworks — any notes Sandoval hadn’t played before exploded here.
Sandoval made the best of a challenging situation, playing with astounding exuberant grace and skill whenever he knew he could be heard. At times, he seemed to urge substitute drummer Nate Coyne to play harder, as Coyne seemed content to settle into bassist Dennis Marks’s grooves. Coyne always responded, and Sandoval applauded his performance in “the hot seat.”
But Sandoval himself occupied that seat, and wowed and entertained in spite of many problems.