Angelica Sanchez: Life Between (2008)
Since their relocation from Arizona in 1995, pianist Angelica Sanchez and her husband, saxophonist Tony Malaby, have made their mark on the fertile New York scene. Malaby has become omnipresent, appearing on over 50 albums in the last decade, while Sanchez has maintained a lower profile, playing often but recording sporadically, usually in a collective trio with Malaby and drummer Tom Rainey, last documented on Alive in Brooklyn, Vol. 2 (Sarama, 2005).
Life Between features Sanchez leading a stellar electro-acoustic quintet which includes regular collaborators Malaby and Rainey, stalwart bassist Drew Gress and specially invited guest, French guitarist Marc Ducret. This remarkable sophomore effort offers a summary of her impressive growth as a composer since her sublime debut as a leader, Mirror Me (Omnitone, 2001).
Alternating unadorned folksy melodies with elaborate contrapuntal lines, Sanchez's writing modulates between harmonious accessibility and thorny involution as her pieces gracefully shift between open forms and taut written sections. "Black Helicopters" and the title track unfold with brooding atmospheric washes, while "Name Dreamer" and "Blue & Damson" introduce plangent motifs; each piece subtly surges into tumultuous meditations fraught with knotty intervallic themes, fractured rhythms and tonal extremes.
A singular stylist with a harmonically unfettered melodic sensibility, Sanchez's effervescent lyricism takes center stage on the gentle acoustic piano ballad "Federico." The bell-like tones of her electric Wurlitzer provide haunting ambience to the title track, colorfully penetrating linear variations on "Blue & Damson," and a flurry of gnarled notes on the vigorous "SF 4."
Sanchez's incisive excursions are often the inverse of her husband's, yet their dynamic rapport is mutually beneficial; Sanchez coaxes tenderness from Malaby, while he inspires her more aggressive inclinations. A congenial interpreter and stellar technician, Malaby's contributions to Sanchez's work are unswerving and emotionally compelling. His insectoid trills on "Black Helicopters" escalate with climactic urgency, while his pneumatic runs on the title track are muscular and heartfelt. He plies soulful glisses on "Federico" and spews quicksilver circuitous refrains on "514" and "Blue & Damson," the later culminating in a miasma of fervent low tones and volcanic multiphonics.
Ducret's dynamic versatility is legendary; combining Hendrixian electronic maelstroms with the virtuosity of Mahavishnu-era John McLaughlin, he unleashes salvos of spiky fragments on "Blue & Damson," distorted shards and searing legato phrases on the jaunty "514," and silky filigrees on "Federico." His rapport with the veteran group is exemplary, sounding more like a longstanding member rather than an invited guest.
Gress and Rainey provide magnanimous support with a fluid undercurrent of rhythmic invention that negotiates sharp angles, stop-start rhythms and unconventional meters. They offer a stimulating bed of interactivity that facilitates a wide range of expression, from dulcet introspection to volatile agitation.
With inspired readings delivered by an empathetic line-up, Sanchez's opulent compositions unveil breathtaking kaleidoscopic vistas, making Life Between one of the year's most striking records.
Track Listing: 514; Federico; Name Dreamer; Black Helicopters; SF 4; Blue & Damson; Life Between; Corner Eye.
Personnel: Angelica Sanchez: piano, Wurlitzer electric piano; Marc Ducret: electric guitar; Tony Malaby: tenor saxophone; Drew Gress: double bass; Tom Rainey: drums.