Antonio Sanchez is a drummer/composer perhaps best known outside of jazz circles as the composer of the of the impressive score of the Academy Award-winning motion picture Birdman. The score was nominated for a number of awards in its own right, although disqualified from competing for the Oscar on a technicality. Sanchez is now out with two exciting new albums.
Three Times Three is a two -disc set with a hook: three different trios, each highlighted by a different instrument. All are led by Sanchez and play three songs each; two original Sanchez compositions and one by a jazz master. And these are no ordinary trios. These are ensembles of some of the finest jazz talent on the scene today. More importantly, they are three trios that deliver the goods.
Trio one, which takes over the whole of the first disc, has Sanchez working with pianist extraordinaire Brad Mehldau and bassist Matt Brewer. They take their time exploring the nuances of “Nar-this,” Sanchez’s dynamic arrangement of the Miles Davis composition “Nardis,” as well as the two Sanchez compositions: an almost-14 minute journey through “Constellations” and the haunting “Big Dream.”
Trio two, with guitarist John Schofield and bassist Christian McBride, opens the second disc with grooving takes of Wayne Shorter’s “Fall,” along with “Rooney and Vinski,” as well as a funky look at a tune called “Nooks and Crannies.” The album concludes with three tracks from Joe Lovano on tenor sax and John Patitucci on acoustic bass. They end with a killer romp through Monk’s “I Mean You,” after penetrating readings of “Leviathan” and “Firenze.”
Where Three Times Three plays with varieties of the classic jazz trio, The Meridian Suite is a long form exploration of musical ideas with a little larger ensemble. “I wanted,” Sanchez tells us in the liner notes, “to create imaginary lines in which motifs, emotions, ideas and melodies flow, meet and intertwine… the way Meridians do.” The piece, with five movements running four minutes under an hour, has elements of modern rock, electronica, and free-form improvisation, spiced with some vocal gyrations from special guest Thana Alexa. It’s a highly personal musical statement about what contemporary jazz ought to be.
Sanchez calls his group Migration his “working ensemble.” It features Seamus Blake on tenor sax and EWI (electric wind interface), John Escreet on piano and fender Rhodes, Matt Brewer on acoustic and electric basses, as well as special guest Adam Rogers on guitars. Sanchez has produced an ambitious “electro-acoustic” work, one that speaks with a creative new sound while avoiding the perils of avant-garde excess. The powerful final moments of the opening movement “Grids and Patterns” give way to the spare piano that quietly opens the second, “Imaginary Lines.” The suite concludes with a 20-minute feast for the ears Sanchez calls “Pathways of the Mind.”
Antonio Sanchez is a man with a musical vision, a man offering new ways to think about jazz while taking full advantage of the strides made by those who came before. Too many visionaries are destructionists. Sanchez is a constructionist. He offers innovation without destruction.