David Sanchez: Ninety-Mile Bridge
The results of the recording session give the impression that the connection between all the musicians was instant, such is the cohesiveness of the playing and the impressive interplay, but as Sánchez explains it took some work. "Stefon, Christian and I can relate to each other a little easier because of our backgrounds but we had to make adjustments there, in order to get a flow where the Cubans could freely express the way they normally play and we could do exactly the same thing. That was really the key. That's where it's at; how free and natural can you be while being receptive and relating to each other at the same time. We tried the best we could to find a balance where all the elements in one way or the other would be present, The objective was to hear where everybody is coming from. It's hard when you just meet people and have to make it happen," he says laughing. "It was intense work, and quite frankly at the end of the day we were all dead. We wanted to hang out but after working all day with just little breaks we'd go out and have dinner and that was it. It was that intense."
From left: Christian Scott, Stefon Harris, David Sánchez
In spite of the New Yorkers' ability to relate to each other, Ninety Miles surprisingly marks the first time that Sánchez and Harris had played together. "The only other time was in a Master Class a long time ago in Spokane, Washington with a big band where he did the first part and I did the second part," relates Sánchez. "It was not a real playing environment. That's it." Harris is without a doubt one of the most exciting instrumentalists in modern jazza vibraphonist without peersand a formidable composer. He lends three of his own compositions to the project"And This Too Shall Pass," from his debut as leader, A Cloud of Red Dust (Blue Note, 1998); the title track of the follow-up, Black Action Figure (Blue Note, 1999); and "Brown Belle Blues," which he wrote specially for this project.
Harris' playing is soulful, bluesy and quite exhilarating at times, particularly on the Sánchez composition "City Sunrise." "I have always been an admirer of his playing," says Sánchez. "There's always been something special about the way he executes the instrument and how the instrument relates to his concept as a composer and as a bandleader. He had that right from the start. He has a high level of authenticity and that is something which is very important. It's been a great blessing and an honor to share this music with him." Sánchez is equally full of praise for Scott. Although not represented as a composer on Ninety Miles his performance is full of the energy and individuality that has marked him out as one of the most talented trumpeters to have emerged in some time. Sánchez is a long-time friend of Scott's uncle, alto saxophonist Donald Harrison and has known Scott since he was as a kid.
Though Sánchez didn't see Scott play until many years later he was instantly taken with the trumpeter's obvious talent. "He too, had something very special from the start," recalls Sánchez. "You could tell that he had a little something in there, a little spark that is distinctive. I was very impressed with his sound, a very mature sound. There's some warmth to it, a singing quality. On this record he knew when to let it out, when to pull back. Most of all he knows how to play and interpret a melody. That's extremely important; you know, it's a story. We're telling a story and the very first statement is very important and Christian can manage that really great. I think he has a really incredible future ahead of him."
Scott is no stranger to Cuban music. His grandmother was born in Cuba and would sing Cuban songs to him growing up in his native New Orleans. However, Puerto Rican Sánchez was at a linguistic advantage over Scott and Harris when it came to communicating verbally with the Cuban musicians, and he was able to give direction when needed. "I do have a strong connection with Caribbean music in general, especially Cuban music and Puerto Rican music so I could actually tell them some things, I think this type of rhythm with the batá would be great here, or have more space there." Although there were five leaders on Ninety Miles it was, as Sánchez underlines, very much a team effort. "It was a collective work all the time. Everybody pitched in as the compositions were being played."