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David Sanchez: Ninety-Mile Bridge

By Published: August 29, 2011
The quartets of Duharte and López -Nussa bring their distinctive characters to the music, though both possess profound rhythmic drive. "Harold's brother [drummer, Ruy Adrian López -Nussa] had a little more of a jazz influence going on than the Cuban influence, which was a surprise but I guess there's a young generation coming along with the internet and they're checking it out. They're being influenced by jazz music and other styles of music. The younger drummers are playing a little differently to the older drummers actually. By way of contrast, Duharte's rhythms and those of drummer Eduardo Barraetabena, percussionist Jean Roberto San Miguel, and electric bassist Osmar Salazar provided an altogether different brew. "Rember's [Duharte] rhythm section was more African sounding than Cuban; you could feel it," says Sánchez, It was rawer but it was really beautiful."

From left: Stefon Harris, David Sánchez, Christian Scott

The music on Ninety Miles is for the most part intense and driving, with powerful unison lines between trumpet and saxophone, strong soloing and propulsive rhythms. The one exception is Sánchez's meditative "The Forgotten Ones." "Originally it was meant to be only a duo," Sánchez explains. "Part of the challenge of this recording was to balance the material. Because of the difficult communication it wasn't until we got there that we knew all the material that they'd be bringing. When we got there we realized that everybody had brought tunes that were a little intense and up-tempo, so, I brought this song to break things up, to allow things to breathe a little. In any recording or performance space and breathing room are necessary."

Harris brings an ethereal, shimmering beauty to a lament which remembers those in New Orleans who suffered hurricane Katrina, but it is the batá of percussionist San Miguel which brings another dimension to the tune. "I thought we could do something with the batá playing in the distance," says Sánchez, "but as the song grows Stefon [Harris] and Jean Roberto [San Miguel] get a little more involved and then fade out. It has that effect of drifting in and out. It was just an idea we tried in the studio. "

Rhythmically, the songs on Ninety Miles are fascinating, with layers of djembe, congas and batá and fusing with the distinctive drumming styles of Barroetabena and Ruy Adrian López—Nussa. Having taken up conga at the age of eight, Sánchez has an instinctive feel for the requirements of the percussion. "When there was an uncertainty as to what the percussion should play I always went with whatever had the most space. Some of the compositions were quite busy so I knew we needed the space and I was aware of that." There is also plenty of space in Sánchez's playing and lyricism aplenty in his solo on Duharte's impressive composition "Ñengueleru;" which opens the album. Always capable of firey statements, Sánchez is aware of the growing lyricism that has entered his playing over the years. "Yeah, you change as time goes by and you evolve as you experience different things and different places."

"Definitely these changes have brought something differences into my playing, different ways of playing melodies. No doubt about that. It depends on the era; it depends on the environment you grew up in. I grew up in Puerto Rico playing a completely different style of music. My first professional gig was playing with this salsa band where I was playing background horns; you have to groove so people can dance, and if you don't groove, that's it, you're fired [laughs]. That was my first experience and my first school was playing music for people to dance I'm very grateful I had that foundation. That foundation was key to what I am today. Then listening to different musicians and different styles of music gives you different perspective on playing, different ways of phrasing and different ways of expressing yourself."

At the end of the five days the musicians gave a concert in Havana, and two tracks on the accompanying DVD—a taster for the upcoming documentary on the making of Ninety Miles— show the musicians to be really cooking. Sánchez remembers the performance for more than just the music. "One of the things that I remember was that it was horrifically hot. It was a beautiful, old theater but the air-conditioning wasn't working and it was all closed in with no windows and no ventilation at all. I was amazed that the people sat there fanning themselves with their programs. We're dying onstage and they must be dying out there; why are they still here?" Sánchez says, laughing. "The people did not move and it shows you the very high level of appreciation for the music."

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