Jazz CD Reviews

Antonio Sanchez – New Life – Cam Jazz

On his third outing, drummer Antonio Sanchez goes from mythology to the Middle East and from midnight tales to family life.

Published on March 28, 2013

Antonio Sanchez – New Life – Cam Jazz [Distr. by Sunnyside/ eOne] CAM 5045 – 72:26 ****:

(Antonio Sanchez – drums, vocals, keys, co-producer; Dave Binney – alto saxophone; Donny McCaslin – tenor saxophone; John Escreet – piano, Fender Rhodes; Matt Brewer – acoustic & electric bass; Thana Alexa – voice)

There seems to be an unfortunate prejudice regarding drummers. It’s the preconception those behind the drum kits are not also composers and bandleaders. It’s true that statistically there are fewer drummers who write music and manage groups as compared to other artists. But jazz has plentiful examples of drummers who are more than just timekeepers or rhythmists, from Art Blakey to Paul Motian, and from Jack DeJohnette to Tony Williams. Three time Grammy Award winner Antonio Sanchez is continuing that legacy with his 72-minute third outing, New Life. Sanchez has performed with Chick Corea, Michael Brecker, Charlie Haden, Toots Thielemans, and Joshua Redman. But since 2002, Sanchez’s most prominent connection has been with Pat Metheny, in a number of settings, including Metheny’s trio and quartet as well as the Unity Band.

Sanchez’s earlier albums (Migration, 2007 and Live in New York at Jazz Standard, 2010) featured a two-sax lineup alongside drums and bass, with occasional supporting guitar. Over the course of eight lengthy pieces Sanchez magnifies his compositional palette with the addition of piano, which allows more variety and different musical coloring. Sanchez created a talented quintet to realize his all-originals program. Tenor saxophonist Donny McCaslin is a solo artist and an in-demand session player (Tony Monaco, Joel Harrison, and singer Elisabeth Lohninger are just a few names he has been linked to). Alto saxophonist Dave Binney, who has released close to 20 solo projects, has worked with Ray Levier and has previously collaborated with McCaslin in New York City avant-garde jazz quartet Lan Xang. Bassist Matt Brewer (who switches between acoustic and electric bass) has performed with Adam Niewood, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Greg Osby and a host of others. Pianist John Escreet has issued four solo albums, and recorded with Tyshawn Sorey and Binney. Vocalist Thana Alexa (Sanchez’s fiancée) guests on certain cuts.

Sanchez is a storyteller and there is a tale behind most of his latest tunes. Opener “Uprising and Revolutions” began as a sedate ballad but was modified into a higher acceleration when it became a tribute to the Arab Spring. Tension develops from the start with rubato bursts, drum rolls, reverberating bass, and an industrious groove, and by the two-minute mark, the saxes commence an explorative, improvisational section. Escreet builds his own pressure with deft harmonic alterations. Two selections are based on Greek mythology. The modal-leaning “Minotauro,” gradually advances, from a slow bass pulse with a meter which shifts from asymmetrical to regular; ticking percussion; and atmospheric Fender Rhodes, and then the piece moves to a mid-tempo funk structure (highlighted by Escreet’s soulful Fender Rhodes solo) and next, a Sanchez drum improv, with concentrated intensity and an open-minded use of time. “Medusa” is constructed around Sanchez’s memory of the snarling dreadful creature with venomous snakes in place of hair, which Sanchez vividly remembered from a childhood viewing of the film, Clash of the Titans. “Medusa” has an interlaced, intricate melody and complex, polyrhythmic arrangement which echoes the Medusa’s malevolence and the woman-like monster’s writhing, serpentine tresses. The two horns pursue each other, then function in unity, and also expand into broad harmonic flourishes.

Friendship and kin inform the narrative undertow on further offerings. The flexible “The Real McDaddy” was written specifically with McCaslin’s tone and style in mind. Sanchez states the title refers to how he and McCaslin jokingly call each other papi (Spanish for father), and that no matter the situation, McCaslin never loses his cool. The cut’s idiosyncratic funk lines incorporate unpredictable breaks, thematic stops and starts, and metrical fluctuations set up by Escreet, Brewer and Sanchez, while the always unflappable horns ply their way through the ever-changing rhythmic landscape. “Nighttime Story” is a melodic jazz lullaby, which has the sort of late evening demeanor which might be hummed to a youngster ready to slip into slumberland: this has some of the record’s most poignant sax, as well as Escreet’s equally lyrical piano lines. Sanchez’s most commemorative composition comes at the end with the vibrant “Family Ties,” which Sanchez describes as “such a happy tune. It represents what my family can be: full of drama but full of happiness at the same time.” McCaslin and Binney share harmonic and dynamic development, and conceive first-class solos, accentuating one another, while also lightly bantering. Sanchez’s probable future is plotted out on the soaring, epic title track, the album’s centerpiece. Sanchez asserts “it’s the track that I worked on the most, and the one that was most satisfying to record and listen back to.” The arrangement includes Alexa’s wordless singing, akin to Naná Vasconcelos’ involvement with Metheny. Sanchez says “New Life” signifies his new life as composer and bandleader, but with his imminent wife’s vocal support, it’s a given that “New Life” correspondingly looks ahead to Sanchez’s impending marriage and the strong possibility of parenthood. Anyone who wants a behind-the-scenes sneak peek of the New Life sessions should view a short video which shows the recording process.

TrackList: Uprising and Revolutions; Minotauro; New Life; Nighttime Story; Medusa; The Real McDaddy; Air; Family Ties.

—Doug Simpson

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