Arturo Sandoval is a true maestro: despite his reputation as a bop-based trumpeter who plays jazz inspired by his native Cuban tradition, he has delved deeply into tango, swing, and electric jazz in his long career. He is also a fine pianist and percussionist. That said, the notion of him recording a collection of classical pieces, standards, and ballads with a trio and a string orchestra as backing is more than a bit of a surprise. Nonetheless, that’s what A Time for Love basically is. Sandoval claims that this is the realization of a 20-year dream. He wanted it bad enough to make and release the record himself, but fate stepped in. Pianist Shelly Berg heard the demos and brought him to Concord’s Greg Field, who in turn brought in Grammy-winning arranger Jorge Calandrelli. They co-produced while Calandrelli arranged eight of the nine string charts -- Berg arranged the other and brought in his trio to back up Sandoval.
The classical readings include Fauré’s “Aprés un Reve" and “Pavane,” Ravel’s "Pavane Pour une Infante Defunte" (with Chris Botti on second trumpet), and Astor Piazzolla's “Oblivion” (with Monica Mancini on vocals). All reveal the emotional depth of Sandoval's playing, not just his technical acumen. While his fiery jazz playing can emote, it is often overshadowed by his expertise. Here, it is softness and tenderness without sentimentality that speak to the listener. The standards such as “I Loves You Porgy,” the shimmering swing in “Speak Low,” and the deep romance in the Johnny Mandel-Johnny Mercer classic “Emily” seemingly come from the vocal jazz tradition. Yet in them one can readily hear what Sandoval claims are his two greatest inspirations for this album: trumpeter Bobby Hackett's playing with the Jackie Gleason Orchestra, and the album Clifford Brown with Strings. The musical economy of those influences is reflected in the emotional weight and complex lyrical dimension carried in each note by Sandoval; the arrangements serve to heighten that revelation rather than overtake it. There are two very satisfying bonus tracks included as well, “The Windmills of Your Mind,” a stellar duet with Berg, and Cole Porter's “Every Time We Say Goodbye,” with Kenny Barron guesting on piano. It’s tempting to call A Time for Love Sandoval's masterpiece, but that is based on the sharp contrast with virtually everything else in his catalog; only time will reveal whether or not it is. For now, what is certain is that it is one of them.