Jazz listeners generally choose between the orderliness of a jazz ensemble with a piano, or the freedom that playing sans the chordal instrument allows a group. For pianist Angelica Sanchez, her presence muddles that distinction. On Life Between she preserves the ordernot by chords, but by her compositions, arrangements and, maybe, presence.
After releasing two self-produced recordings with drummer Tom Rainey and her husband, the great tenor saxophonist Tony Malaby, she debuted to great acclaim on Mirror Me (Omnitone, 2003) which added bassist Michael Formanek. This session replaces Formanek with Drew Gress and adds French guitar legend Marc Ducret.
Certainly with that much firepower things are apt to tear apart quickly. These four sidemen are capable of releasing the improvisational equivalent of shock and awe. But, remarkably they don't. And it is not because they are limited by the chordal policeman of Sanchez's piano. Her instrument of choice here is the Wurlitzer, an electric piano favored by Herbie Hancock during the Miles Davis electric years and, more recently, Uri Caine in his own groups and as part of Dave Douglas' ensembles. Its unique sound, almost meek as compared to a standard piano, acts more to sustain than as a traffic cop.
The tracks, all her compositions, can be noddingly memorable, like "514" and "Name Dreamer," or emotionally packed as on "Federico." When she prepares a piece that is open for a bit more improvisation such as "Black Helicopters," her players release a very under controlled openness. Malaby's saxophone simmers and Ducret pokes-and-prods through his bag of guitar effects. The result here is a refined and controlled music making, easy to digest even though the playing is quite sophisticated. Sanchez's switch to acoustic piano playing here and on the short final piece "Corner Eye" is full of ringing bright notes. An excellent rejoinder to Malaby's thunderous tenor, and the shock of Ducret.
This quintet of some of jazz's finest improvisers allow Sanchez to realize her vision by tailoring their sound to this very special project.
Personnel: Angelica Sanchez: piano, Wurlitzer electric piano, Drew Gress: double-bass; Marc Ducret:
electric guitar; Tom Rainey: drums; Tony Malaby: tenor saxophone.