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REVIEW: Arturo Sandoval, Trumpet Grandmaster (Dakota)

A promotional photo of jazz trumpeter Arturo Sandoval.

Last night, the trumpeter Arturo Sandoval played at the Dakota Jazz Club in Minneapolis. Over the course of the evening, he showcased his versatility in a performance filled with the charisma that attracts top-quality stars to his recording albums.

Sandoval’s new album Ultimate Duets! drops on Friday, May 18. In it, he plays with some of the world’s most recognized singers, including Placido Domingo, Stevie Wonder, ABBA’s Anni-Frid Lyngstad, Al Jarreau, Josh Groban, Pharrell Williams, and Ariana Grande. None of these singers were available for Sandoval’s performance at the Dakota, unfortunately, but Sandoval himself thrived in the spotlight.

Another promotional photo of Arturo Sandoval.

At 68 years old, Sandoval is still going strong. The recipient of nine Grammy Awards, he was also awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013. There is even an HBO movie about his eventful life, For Love or Country: The Arturo Sandoval Story, starring Andy Garcia and chronicling his early life as a jazz trumpeter in communist Cuba. (Sandoval scored the soundtrack, which earned him an Emmy Award.) Sandoval idolized Charlie Parker, Clifford Brown, and Dizzy Gillespie, eventually meeting Gillespie in 1977 and touring internationally with him. It was on one such trip in 1990 that Sandoval defected to the United States.

Sandoval is composer, arranger, and player of multiple instruments.  During his set, he played his trademark trumpet, of course, but also showed himself to be master on piano and keyboards. He is not at all bad as a singer and drummer. On the crowded Dakota stage, he was accompanied by a sax player, two percussionists, a bass player doubling on electric guitar, and a pianist/keyboard player.

The set list included many jazz classics, including Miles Davis’s “Seven Steps to Heaven” and “A Night in Tunisia” by Sandoval’s mentor, Dizzy Gillespie. Sandoval also payed tribute to Gillespie through his composition “Every Day I Think of You.”

Sandoval sang this last song while seated among the audience, after leaving the stage to talk to the audience between songs.  Earlier, he had entered conversations from the stage, praising the club, and asking for recommendations for the food he should eat between sets (one suggestion he got was rejected as “too healthy”).

Arturo Sandoval in concert.
The set list also included Sandoval standards like “The Latin Train” that showed the artist’s eclectic tastes; the music moved seamlessly from classical to Be Bop to Latin. Sandoval showed his impressive expressive range on the trumpet, from shrill but pure high notes, down to notes so low they sounded like a mix of tuba and foghorn.

There was often an effective mix of high-energy Be Bop or Cuban rhythms from the band, contrasted with beautiful, long pure notes from Sandoval’s trumpet.  One example was “El Manisero” (“The Peanut Vendor”), which in the live performance was much more energetic than on some recordings. Sandoval often danced a little while playing keyboards. While he may be approaching his seventh decade, it was clear that Sandoval had both great energy and great joy still: joy in having composed the music, in playing the music, and in seeing the effects it had on those who came to hear him play.

Brian Bix