Cuban expatriate Arturo Sandoval has won four Grammys for his skill as a trumpeter. But rather than simply hone that particular talent, Sandoval chose to set sail for uncharted territory on his most recent album, “My Passion for the Piano” — an ardor he spent a good bit of time indulging on the first night of his current Gotham stand.
Sandoval hasn’t abandoned his original instrument entirely, as he proved during a luxuriant version of “Cherokee.” That tune, popularized by Clifford Brown, gave Sandoval a chance to showcase several aspects of his personality, from the hammy showoff who works a mute the way a magician works a deck of cards to the romantic with a masseur’s touch on the valves.
Even his dexterity couldn’t extract Sting’s “An Englishman in New York” — retitled “A Cuban in New York” for this perf — from the unctuous goo that exudes from the composition’s every pore. Felipe Lamoglia contributed a sharp soprano saxophone solo, but that interlude wasn’t enough to salvage the piece.
Throughout the 80-minute set, however, Sandoval’s enthusiasm was contagious. Whether tapping out a rhythm on a minipercussion kit, scatting along with bassist Dennis Marks or bopping along to one of young pianist Robert Rodriguez’s well-crafted solos, he wore the look of a kid unwrapping the first gift of Christmas morning.
That ambience was most clear during the set’s last half, when Sandoval, seated at the piano, dealt out a series of crisp, enveloping solos in the mode of Oscar Peterson. At his best — the pealing “Surena,” for instance — Sandoval was breathlessly engaging. Yes, he occasionally lapsed into Cubop cliche, but it seldom took long for him to steady his sextet’s course in a concert that revealed many an unexpectedly pleasurable moment along the way.