Antonio Sanchez: Doing It All
AAJ: Metheny paid you a great compliment when he described your presence in the Pat Metheny Group as "one of the most significant changes in the band's 28-year history"; how has your tenure in the PMG influenced you as a musician/composer?
AS:Immensely; not only with the PMG, but working with Pat in a bunch of different projects; The PM Trio, with [bassist] Christian McBride for a few years, the Gary Burton Quartet Revisited for a few tours, and now the Unity Band. Every situation teaches me something new and inspires me in different ways as a player and as composer. I just recorded my third album entitled New Life, and it's all-original material. The PMG has been a huge inspiration to write more complex tunes with more sections and orchestration. In Migration I wrote a lot of head in-solos-head out kind of tunes. Now I'm trying to expand on that and orchestrate things to make them sound bigger and fuller. I also added piano because that's how I compose. It's funny that on Migration I decided not to use piano even though I wrote the tunes that way.
AAJ: Did the process of composing the material for Migration change your approach to drumming in any way at all?
AS: I think every new project changes my drumming in some way because I'm all about adapting to new music. Migration was a great learning experience for me because even though I was the leader I didn't want it to sound as a drummer's record so I really tried to come across strong but not overpowering. Hopefully I achieved that.
AAJ: The last performance of the PMG was before 100,000 people at the 2005 Montreal Jazz Festival; what was it like playing before a crowd of such magnitude?
AS: Pretty surreal. When there are that many people you just see a mass in front of you. You don't distinguish faces. For me it's actually way more intimidating to play a small jazz club where you can see and hear people's reactions and hear a pin drop when they're silent. Playing big crowds is amazing because of the energy they give you back but the intimacy you get in small crowds is great for playing in daring, interactive ensembles.
AAJ: The post-recording, post-tour hiatuses of the PMG keep getting longer and longer; do you know are there plans for another PMG CD/tour on the horizon?
AS: I think it's time for another PMG project. The global economic situation has made it harder to tour the way we are used to because it's a big operation that involves a lot of gear and people but I think Pat is getting closer to wanting to do it again. There's nothing that comes close in terms of fan's expectations I think. Everybody is craving another go around.
AAJ:Your drumming on Unity Band comes across as extremely subtle and on much of your recorded output it's as subtle as it is propulsive; did you always have this deceptive lightness of touch?
AS: I think that has happened with time. When I used to work with [pianist] Danilo Pérez, we did tons of trio concerts and a lot of the time I had to play really soft but with lots of intensity, because of the music and venues we were playing. That helped me a lot in terms of touch. I had to play with lots of lightness and propulsion at the same time. It's something that stayed with me and that I've been able to apply to every other project I've been a part of since.
AAJ: You've recently finished mastering New Life, your third CD as leader; can you tell us who plays with you on that and what we can expect to hear?
AS: The band is great. It's David Binney on alto, Donny McCaslin on tenor, John Escreet on piano and Rhodes and Matt Brewer on bass. We did a five-and-a-half-week-long tour last fall and I had all the music I wanted to record ready so we got to play it a lot before we got to the studio last January. Without that tour I don't think the music would have come out as great as it did.
Like I said before, it's all original tunes and it's a huge step for me as a composer. The tunes are more involved, orchestrated and I really put a lot of effort into them. I wanted to make an album that was compelling, challenging and accessible to the listener. I think we got a good balance of all those things. I want a jazz musician to like it but I also want my mom and my grandfather to like it, if you know what I mean. I think there's enough melodic material that people can relate to and enough complexity to keep a more trained ear interested. It will probably come out January 2013.
AAJ:That's something we'll all be looking forward to. What's the feeling within the band after recording and touring, I mean, do you see the Unity Band recording more together?
AS: That would be great. We've only finished a third of the tour so we still haven't discovered all that we can do. When you get into the 30th plus gig that's when you start realizing your full potential. It's just a matter of timing and what Pat is thinking of doing next. This could definitely be an ongoing project because we have the intimacy of a small jazz combo or the punch-in-the-gut of a big rock group. We have played small venues and really big ones as well and it has worked beautiful every time. Chris is such a power house and so is Pat of course. Having those two guys in the front line can mean fireworks, but we can also play a beautiful ballad in a very quiet way. I think the sky is the limit...
Pat Metheny Unity Band, Unity Band (Nonesuch Records, 2012)
Donny McCaslin, Perpetual Motion (Greenleaf Music, 2011)
The New Gary Burton Quartet, Common Ground (Mack Avenue Records, 2011)
Antonio Sanchez, Live in New York at Jazz Standard (Cam Jazz, 2010)
Pat Metheny Trio, Day Trip (Nonesuch Records, 2008)
Antonio Sanchez, Migration (Cam Jazz, 2007)
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