Arturo Sandoval Features Pharrell, Grande and More on ‘Ultimate Duets’

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Arturo Sandoval’s ​Ultimate Duets (Universal) features contributions from 13 guests across 11 tracks.

(Photo: Courtesy of the Artist)

While many other jazz artists of his age and caliber are settling into a comfortable groove as they head into their golden years, trumpeter Arturo Sandoval still has a mind toward connecting with new listeners. That’s part of the reason that, when the 68-year-old was putting together a list of artists to record with for his new album Ultimate Duets (Universal), he went beyond the usual suspects and reached out to big-ticket names, like Pharrell Williams and Ariana Grande, as well as current Latin pop gods like Prince Royce and David Bisbal.

“The people who listen to Ariana or Pharrell or Josh Groban, maybe they’re not a big fan of the trumpet or jazz,” Sandoval said. “But because of them, I have a chance to reach a completely different audience that I’ve never had a chance to reach before.”

It remains to be seen if Sandoval’s gambit pays off, but it’s clear that the presence of those artists and friends, like Celia Cruz and Stevie Wonder, put a little extra fuel in the trumpeter’s tank. On the hip-shaking merengue tune “La Bilirrubina,” he interrupts a great vocal turn by Juan Luis Guerra to snap off a quick solo that finishes on a drawn-out high note. And when he joins forces with fellow Cuban expat Cruz for a rendition of the salsa classic “Quimbara,” Sandoval sidles in with a sly, frolicsome tone to his playing.

The appearance of Williams in the credits for this album might raise some suspicious eyebrows. But the songwriter and producer known for hit singles like “Happy” and Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” is a longtime fan of Sandoval. And in 2016, he even invited the trumpeter to play on the soundtrack he produced for Hidden Figures, a film that details the contributions of three African-American women to NASA. When the tables were turned and he was invited to participate in the sessions for Duets, Williams responded by writing an ode to Sandoval and bringing along Grande to lend her vocal talents to the tune.

“She is a talented, beautiful girl,” Sandoval said of the pop singer. “She was very nice and even posted a couple of things on her Instagram and Twitter from the studio, and I really appreciate that.”

In reality, the most surprising name to see in the liner notes is that of Anni-Frid Lyngstad, one-quarter of the Swedish pop juggernaut ABBA. Her appearance on Duets, singing a Spanish-language version of her former group’s 1980 single “Andante, Andante,” marks only the second time in more than 20 years that she has lent her talents out like this. And it almost didn’t happen.

“To be honest, I first said, ‘No,’ when my friend [Duets producer] Gregg Field asked if I wanted to sing on the album,” Lyngstad said. “But a week later, I sent an email saying, ‘Yes, I’m in!’ And I will never regret that decision. I am in total awe of Arturo’s technical and musical ability, and the spiritual way in which he plays the trumpet.”

Another special touch on the album is that it features the last recorded studio performance by Al Jarreau. The two men worked together in Sandoval’s home studio during early 2017 to record a sparkling rendition of “After All,” a song originally found on Jarreau’s 1984 album High Crime.

“Physically, he didn’t feel very well,” Sandoval remembered, “but his voice was impeccable. He sounded better than ever. When he got to the house, he asked me for a piece of paper and a pen, and he wrote some words that he used as an introduction to the song. Those words were a kind of farewell for him. He saw that that was the end for him. He passed away 10 days later.”

If the passing of a legend like Jarreau—or any of the other jazz icons who have died in recent years—is weighing on Sandoval as he gets closer to his 70th birthday, he isn’t showing it. Nor is he acting as if age is going to slow him down any time soon. He has a full concert calendar that will take him around the world this year and is even looking at recording a second volume of Duets.

“I really thought that when I turned 50, there were going to be a very small amount of gigs for me,” Sandoval said. “But, I’ll tell you, in the last few years, I have more jobs than ever before. I can’t believe it. For the first time ever, I have to talk to my manager and say, ‘Hey, take it easy! Time out!’” DB



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