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The Washington Post

For David Sanchez, A Place on Any Jazz Map

By Fernando Gonzalez

January 6, 2002
Copyright © 2002
The Washington Post. All Rights Reserved.

Puerto Rican saxophonist David Sanchez, 33, has been hailed as one of the young lions reinventing Latin jazz, but he has consistently shrugged off the label "Latin jazz" -- and with good reason. He has been onto something else.

He makes the point amply clear in "Travesia," his sixth album as leader. For last year's "Melaza," Sanchez drew from Charles Mingus, Ornette Coleman and the old New Orleans sound, but also from traditional Puerto Rican bomba y plena rhythms. Moreover, he set the different elements to unusual time signatures, atypical forms and jagged, asymmetric melody lines.

It was smart and exciting, but also self-consciously complex, suggesting a work in progress. It's a year later with the same band -- Miguel Zenon, alto sax; Edsel Gomez, piano; Hans Glawischnig, bass; Antonio Sanchez, drums -- and the music now is just as ambitious, if not more so, but it also flows.

It also confounds conventional notions of Latin jazz. This is not swing with congas. Rather, think contemporary jazz with an accent, a multicultural and fully bilingual music, a quintessential product of 21st-century America. Pick out which elements come from jazz and which from Latin sources if you must, but that's not quite the point. Yes, Harold Arlen's "Ill Wind" is reinvented with an Afro-Peruvian lando rhythm; "La Maquina (Viajando en el Tren)" connects bomba y plena to the African American tradition of train songs; "Paz Pa Vieques (Seis Chorreao) / Peace for Vieques" seems to nod at Sonny Rollins and his calypsos as it reinterprets a traditional Puerto Rican jibaro (country) dance style, the seis chorreao. Also, there is an inspired pianoless version of "No Quiero Piedras en Mi Camino," a bomba that was a hit for the great Puerto Rican singer, percussionist and bandleader Rafael Cortijo.

But beyond the individual examples, there's a sensibility at play here informing every choice. Musically, the emphasis is mostly -- as it was on "Melaza" -- on melodic lines and rhythm. Harmonies work here as a road map, to be consulted only occasionally. Sanchez's arrangements give the group the full, rich sound of a small big band one moment and pare the approach down to the bone the next. On tenor sax, Sanchez has a broad, romantic sound that works well with Zenon's muscular alto sound (check "Karla's Changes" or the zigzagging "River Tales").

"Travesia" -- the title can be translated as "crossing" -- captures a young artist truly going somewhere. He bears following.

David Sanchez: Travesia

by John Ephland

January 1, 2002
Copyright © 2002
ProQuest Information and Learning. All Rights Reserved.
Copyright © 2002
Copyright Maher Publications Division Jan 2002. All Rights Reserved.

It seems ample technique is everywhere. In the arts, postmodernism might be viewed as a time of excessive technique, with expression the forgotten, elusive or just plain nonexistent essential. In the case of saxophonist David Sanchez, he's been around long enough now to where his ample technique has been bridled in the service of expression. The question now is how good is that expression.

On the evidence we get from Travesia, his sixth for Columbia, the results are mixed. Unlike last year's Melaza, where he concentrated on the music of Puerto Rico , Sanchez has opened things up on Travesia, with elements of the blues, some "outside" jazz influences, most of it with the overlay of so-called world music, specifically Latin. One of the key players here, in fact, is multipercussionist Pernell Saturnino, whose subtle yet effective playing is heard on seven of the 10 tracks here. The band is a tight one, no doubt because Sinchez has kept them together. Key to the sound is the doubled-up sax front line, with Miguel Zenon's frisky yet mellow alto providing an interesting contrast to the tenorist's more full-bodied, forceful, yet many times laidback sound.

Things start off with a rarity: Wayne Shorter's "Prince Of Darkness." Shorter's beautiful melody, unfortunately, is obscured by a too-busy arrangement, with dynamic sax solos working at cross-purposes, all despite an intriguing rhythmic basis. Not so with "La MAquina (Viajando En El Tren)," where a simple, bluesy intro gives way to an effective Latin pulse, the saxophone solos now working in tandem with the rhythm section. There is more feeling, and you know where you are as the listener. Likewise with "Paz PA Vieques (Seis Chorreao)/Peace For Vieques ," where a nice two-sax solo intro segues into an upbeat, off-kilter piece that leaves you guessing.

Shades of Coleman Hawkins' bluesy intonation can be heard in Sanchez's horn on what is Travesia's best tune, the standard "III Wind." What makes it so effective is Sanchez's reworking of the conventional arrangement and the confounding of expectations, where the saxophonist and his rhythm mates alone reinvent the melody and mood. Instead of a mournful ballad, we get a kind of uptempo anthem (with only hints of a lament) that makes us cling to the melody even as we welcome the unexpected. A triumph of reinterpretation. Sadly, "Joyful" places us back in the busy, colorless world of technique and snazziness, where the music sounds more like an exercise than finished expression.

There are more successful pieces than misfires to fill out the disc, where the clutter is at a minimum, and the scales are tilted toward feeling. This is a band that has some things worth listening to, but is threatened by a generic, runof-the-mill sound. -John Ephland

Travesia: Prince Of Darkness; La Maquina (Viajando En El Tren); Paz Pa Vieques (Seis Chorreao/Peace For Vieques ); III Wind; Joyful; River Tales; No Quiero Piedras En Mi Camino; Karla's Changes; Pra Dizer Adeus; The Power Of The Word. (65:39)

Personnel: David Sanchez, tenor saxophone; Miguel Zenon, alto saxophone; Edsel Gomez, piano; Hans Glawischnig, bass; Antonio Sanchez, drums; Pernell Saturnino, panderos, congas, Puerto Rican rainforest effects, cajon, chekere, percussion.

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