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THE MALAY MAIL
Reviewed by Jerry Z
February 20, 2001
DAVID SANCHEZ: Melaza Columbia
MELAZA has been nominated for the Grammys for best Latin Jazz Album, and few will be surprised if he wins it.
Saxman David Sanchez is regarded one of the most important young saxophonists in jazz today - not bad for someone who started out on the congas!
But then that was when he was eight. He started playing tenor saxophone at age 12.
He graduated from a performing arts high school in 1986, spent a year studying psychology and then moved to New York City in 1988, having decided to become a musician.
Sanchez attended Rutgers University, studying with Kenny Barron, Ted Dunbar and John Purcell.
After a period freelancing in New York with many top Latin players (including Paquito D"Rivera and Claudio Roditi), he joined Dizzy Gillespie"s United Nation Orchestra in 1990, also getting the opportunity to play with Dizzy's small group.
His music combines Afro-Cuban rhythms with advanced bebop.
Obsession followed two years later and Melaza in mid-2000.
Melaza follows his critically acclaimed release, Obsesin, a stirring collection of classic ballads of the Latin American canon, which garnered the young saxman his first Grammy nomination for Best Latin Jazz Performance in 1999.
Melaza's a little more influenced by the jazz approach in terms of the lines, the writing. It is a little more inspired by Ornette Coleman, especially in the harmonies, Sanchez himself says.
"We're not playing Afro-Caribbean music per se - we're playing improvised music that has a certain structure, and I"m using folkloric Puerto Rican instruments like the pandero to give it some color."
Mining the legacy of the African diaspora in Latin America, Sanchez stitches together rhythms and rustic instruments to form the unique base for his charismatic soloing.
Even the name of the album, Melaza, (Spanish for "molasses," a byproduct of the sugar plantations of Latin America) expresses this process in his music, as well as the "sweet and rich kaleidoscopic culture that is a vital part of our world tapestry."
Standout tracks including the hyperkinetic phrasings of Sentinela, the operatic, Coltrane-tinged Cancin la Caaveral (Song of the Sugar Cane Field), and the taut, muscular energy of Puerto San Juan.
There's even a lush Brazilian ballad by Milton Nascimento, Veja Esta Cancao, which concludes the album with an uncommon grace.
On Melaza, Sanchez incorporates a second sax player, Miguel Zenn, into his band line-up for the first time.
Indeed The Zenn-penned composition, El Ogro, is one of the album's highlights.)
Band veterans pianist Edsel Gomez, bassist Hans Glawischnig, percussionist extraordinaire Pernell Saturnino and drummer Adam Cruz make their return after their collaboration on Obsesin, but this time Cruz shares drumming duties with Antonio Sanchez.
A rousing turn on tenor by Melaza's co-producer Branford Marsalis lends yet another facet to this musical gem.
Sanchez claims Gillespie among his influences. After all was one of the first Latin Jazz artists Sanchez ever heard.
But legendary jazzers Roy Haynes, McCoy Tyner and Elvin Jones played important roles in his musical development.
But even before his musical tutelage in New York, Sanchez began his explorations at home in Puerto Rico .
His father, a professional baseball player, loved the rich ballad and dance traditions of the island, and his brother played in a folkloric bomba and plena band for years with members of the legendary Rafael Cortijo Combo.
Although Cortijo was influenced by Brazilian music, Sanchez says he was turned on to the Rio sound through his sister, who was constantly listening to the samba groove.
It is immense pride in his Puerto Rican culture, especially the island's African influence, that continues to inspire David Sanchez's musical voyage today.
The bomba and plena rhythms that he modernizes are the Puerto Rican counterparts to Cuba's son montuno and Brazil's samba. As well as being a Latin jazz innovator, he leads the frontline of Puerto Rican bomba and plena vanguardists like Viento de Agua and William Cepeda.
Not satisfied, however, with the mere reclamation of these rhythms - Snchez puts a cosmopolitan edge on the folklore he grew up with.
On Melaza, he incorporates the angular, painterly feeling of his jazz heroes like Ornette Coleman.
A testament to this growth, both personally and artistically, Melaza is dedicated to "the community of Vieques for its years of struggle for peace." The island's community, just off the coast of Puerto Rico , is trying to persuade the U.S. Navy to cease its use as a target practice training ground.
Sanchez's unity with their struggle is at once an affirmation of a need to care for the environment and an acknowledgement of a people"s right to self-determination.
Of his own search for self-determination, Sanchez says, "Melaza is a beginning. I'm excited because little by little I'm starting to find a voice, starting to hear something I didn"t hear before. If I didn't hear it before, that means I'm starting to get close to finding something, some voice that hasn"t been there before. That's the beauty of music for me."
In a nutshell, if uncompromising bebop based jazz with latin rhythms gets ya, you gotta get this.