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Antonio Sanchez Group at Jazz Standard

Dan Bilawsky By

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Antonio Sanchez Group
Jazz Standard
New York, NY
September 15, 2017

There certainly are musicians out there who lean heavily on chops in order to mask deficiencies in other areas, but nobody could ever get away with painting Antonio Sanchez as one of them. The man may have serious technique, but he has no Achilles' heel, or at least not one we've seen, and his skills all rest in balance to one another. His standing as one of the most skillfully dexterous drummers in jazz was cemented as soon as he arrived on the scene and his role as a true boundary-pushing artist is beyond dispute at this point, having been highlighted on everything from his well-documented work with Pat Metheny to his Grammy-winning solo drum score for Birdman to The Meridian Suite (CamJazz, 2015). In each of those instances, and elsewhere, he's proven himself to be an artist capable of flawlessly developing and executing artfully radical designs, and that same level of brilliance was apparent during this kinetic set.

For this particular run of shows—a three-night stand at Manhattan's Jazz Standard—Sanchez convened a to-die-for two-tenor summit. Saxophonists Donny McCaslin and Chris Potter came heavily armed and ready to go, giving the audience one explosive display of bravura blowing after another, and Sanchez and bassist extraordinaire Matt Brewer, not to be outdone, partnered to form a combustion engine of masterful design(s).

This quartet, not surprisingly, pulled no punches as it opened the second of its two Friday evening sets. Brewer set the band on its "Northbound" journey with his firm bass work and the tenors quickly made their presence felt when they roared down the tracks. McCaslin took to the spotlight first, playing at fever pitch for the majority of his stand, but Potter's horn shined brighter in the end. His cooler introductions allowed space for a marked climb in intensity. That upward trajectory had him hiking and running over switchbacks while artfully weaving in quotes, including a tunefully aligned "Eleanor Rigby" and a most appropriate "Fascinating Rhythm." Both men put their strengths to the test here, yet it was Sanchez who ultimately made the strongest impression. With limbs blazing he wiped everything else out of memory, articulately expounding on rhythmic motifs while using his technique as a blinding means to a communicative end. One-handed triplets and single- stroke salvos set the room ablaze.

Brewer switched to electric for "Gocta," setting the band in motion with an ostinato in seven. Then both tenors immediately met for long tones and rhythmic moans, channeling Ornette Coleman's spirit before moving their separate ways. As the performance progressed, Sanchez provided a ceaseless flow of percussive prods, releasing pent-up energy that raised the stakes. The horns dialed the intensity ever higher with him, but battle they didn't. Instead, they entered into an agreement built on collaborative cacophony.

The aforementioned numbers were both freshly minted, giving the audience a glimpse of Sanchez's current state of musical mind, but the three that followed were all throwbacks of different stripes. "Ballade," first appearing on Migration (CamJazz, 2007), served as a breather of a centerpiece, giving Brewer a chance to step forward and allowing a breezier mood to take hold. Then the fires were rekindled for two numbers referencing Three Times Three (CamJazz, 2015)—Thelonious Monk's "I Mean You" and the original "Nooks And Crannies." The former was fantastically fractured and pliable, with wobbly melodic and rhythmic gesticulations and start-stop passages set into swinging motion through accelerandos, and the latter was an encapsulation of high times, as both tenors wailed in response to each other with near-telepathic rapport and Sanchez took flirtations with metric modulation to gleefully grooving points. When all was said and done, it was abundantly clear that a beautiful marriage of muscularity and high-level musicality made the night.

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