GRAMMY-WINNING SAXOPHONIST DAVID SANCHEZ PLIES AFRO PUERTO RICAN AND HAITIAN TRADITIONS ON ‘CARIB’

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A review by Jim Hynes for Glide.

Grammy winning saxophonist and educator David Sanchez has a new album of originals, inspired by the melodies and rhythms coming from, as the title Caribimplies, the Caribbean region, notably Puerto Rico and Haiti. Sanchez, of Puerto Rican descent, is deeply moved by the cultural and music in the Pan African countries, especially these two islands that never get adequate attention, and are, unfortunately, often ignored. He says he began this theme when he first became a bandleader in 1994 with The Departure and cites his 2000 Melaza as having a strong connection to this one because of its flow the influence of the Bomba music tradition from Puerto Rico. That tradition as well as the Piena rhythms of his homeland, along with Cuban, Caribbean, and Brazilian traditions were his earliest influences before later turning the iconic saxophonists like Rollins, Gordon, Coltrane, Parker, Young, Henderson and Shorter. Sanchez, whose tone is full-bodied, at times breathy but never screeching or growling, is more like Rollins or Gordon but his lyrical playing brings comparisons to Shorter too.

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Sanchez indicates that this is part of a new series of recordings which begin with the musical traditions of Puerto Rico and Haiti and travel to other Afro-descendant musical cultures throughout the Americas. He points out that in Haitian music, he focused on the Congo-Guinee music tradition shared by many Afro-descendant cultures. Both countries share histories of oppression and struggles, the latter including natural disasters as well, too many of which we could recite in recent years. As you glean the titles of the songs such as “The Land of Hills” or “Mirage,” the music relates to the beauty and culture, not directly to the disasters or political circumstances.

In fact, his passion for this music is detailed in the liners. When reading this passage and trying to hear the music through this kind of lens, it takes on even more meaning. Sanchez says, “This album is in memory of my Father, Dimas and especially, my late wife Karla. After a great deal of research and listening to Haitian music, Karla encouraged and helped me take a trip to Haiti. It was an incredible and intense experience, seeing everyday people’s struggles. She felt like it was important that I had this direct contact with Haitian culture. I feel like this recording wouldn’t have bee possible without her wisdom, sensibility and love. Even if she wasn’t physically around when I was in the studio, she was constantly present in many different forms and definitely a key component of this album’s vibe.”

The instrumentation certainly is homed in directly on the sounds of the islands with the use of the Puerto Rican drum called Barril de Bomba by both Sanchez (who started playing percussion at age 8) and percussionist Jhan Lee Aponte.  Sanchez, of course, also plays tenor throughout joined by drummer Obed Calvaire, guitarist Lage Lund, bassist Ricky Rodriguez, and pianist Luis Perdomo who plays the Fender Rhodes on five of the 11 tracks. Sanchez adds vocals on “Madriga” while Calvaire and Perdomeo share vocals on “Mirage.” Markus Schwartz adds Haitian percussion on three tracks.

This music flows beautifully and while there are plenty of nods to Latin music, especially in the percussion, it comes off more as a “world fusion” kind of sound with the interplay between the electric piano, electric guitar, and Sanchez’s full-bodied tenor. Listening to the closing track, “A Thousand Yesterdays” does evoke the classic fusion of Chick Corea’s Return to Forever and, to a lesser extent, Weather Report.  These are all Sanchez compositions, displaying an impressive variety of moods, tempos, and melodies. Contrast the pulse of “Madriga,” for example, with the cinematic breadth of “Canto.” There are a few other lesser known artists and bands that approach this sound but, by and large, Sanchez has a unique signature. Take it all in. It’s gorgeous, inspiring and, at times, breathtaking.

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