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Festival International de Jazz de Montréal 2019

John Kelman By

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Lines in the Sand also includes Chase Baird, and it was the saxophonist/EWI player who, alongside Sanchez, Thana, Escreet and relative Migration newcomer (but nevertheless another fixture on the NYC scene), bassist Orlando Fleming, formed the drummer's current Migration lineup, making its first-ever FIJM appearance. Delivering a set drawn entirely from Lines in the Sand, Sanchez's Migration performance demonstrated music's potential for socio- political change.

Everyone in Migration is a leader in his/her own right, with Alexa and Baird both relative newcomers. Still, despite both Escreet and Fleming being busy players on the New York scene, literally everyone in Migration, with the exception of the higher-profile Sanchez, are well deserving of broader recognition, with this band representing its members' most eminently visible gig. As young a group of players as Sanchez (the oldest, at 47) has recruited for the current Migration, ranging from 31 to 42, they all proved to be potent, creative and undeniable musical forces with which to be reckoned, both individually and collectively.

As on the album, the set opened with "Travesia Intro," a prerecorded collage of sirens and the sounds of children crying, people screaming and questions being asked as they're being arrested and detained by ICE agents ("Do you have a warrant? Are you with ICE? This is wrong," and more), the band walked onstage in relative darkness. When "Travesia Intro" suddenly halted, the band launched into a thirty-minute version of Lines in the Sand's multi-part "Travesia Suite." An episodic (and epic) journey through a myriad of stylistic feels that nevertheless centered on Sanchez's fluid polyrhythmic playing, it was a lengthy suite also based upon Escreet's simple, repetitive Fender Rhodes pattern, and ultimately traversing considerable dynamic terrain, filled with complex compositional constructs that also left plenty of solo space for everyone in the band.

Alexa, in addition to demonstrating a rare ability to both execute broad intervallic leaps with absolute precession and navigate Sanchez's often-times knotty, serpentine (yet still, somehow, eminently lyrical) themes, expanded upon them with her seamless integration of electronics, controlled from a series of devices on a stand before her. Not unlike Sanchez's ex-employer, Pat Metheny, who did a lot of writing for wordless voice, Alexa was largely used in a similar fashion, though she did contribute topical prose to the relatively brief "Home" and narrated two different sets of poetry during the set (and album)-closing "Lines in the Sand Part 1 and 2." In her solo features, she demonstrated even greater control over dynamics and melodic constructions, with a broad range covering huskier lower registers to purer, more powerful leaps into the stratosphere.

Whether contributing repetitive, minimalist-informed patterns or soloing with the kind of expansive harmonic constructions and compositional focus he's also brought to his own albums, including Don't Fight the Inevitable (Mythology, 2010) and, more recently, The Unknown (Sunnyside, 2016), Escreet proved as distinctive as ever, moving fluidly between Fender Rhodes and grand piano, and from spare lines to more complex phrases and detailed, sophisticated voicings.

Fleming didn't just anchor the group throughout, whether on electric or double bass; he was also used as a melodic foil throughout, one example being the simple, long notes at the start of "Long Road," which began with Escreet alone, but subsequently joined by Fleming and Alexa, as the spacious introduction gradually moved into a more delicate ensemble piece. Fleming also contributed a number of impressive solos throughout the set, mostly on electric bass but always demonstrating an allegiance to the needs of the material rather than forcing the material to become secondary to his own contributions. He may still largely be known for his double bass work but here, in particular towards the end of "Lines in the Sand," his slapping and popping bass acted as a firm anchor for Escreet's final solo of the set.

Baird was an impressive saxophonist, but it was his work on EWI (electronic wind instrument) that was most affecting, even adopting a tone similar to Metheny's signature Roland GR-300 "trumpet" patch near the end of "Lines in the Sand." It's odd, in fact, that EWI never really took off as an instrument, though it was an important instrument for fellow reed men like the late Michael Brecker. Still, Baird took full advantage of its sonic possibilities throughout the set, often doubling or harmonizing with Alexa's similarly remarkable articulations of Sanchez's labyrinthine yet still largely memorable melodies.

The exhilarating combination of EWI and electronically enhanced voice in the first climatic build-up during "Bad Hombres Y Mujeres" rendered it the set's heaviest tune, with Fleming's thundering electric bass blending with Escreet's heavily distorted Fender Rhodes. Both bolstered Sanchez's frenetic kit work, and the remarkably high-speed, high-octane lines doubled by Alexa and Baird. Based upon one of the rhythmic themes on Sanchez's brave solo drum record, 2017's Bad Hombre (Cam Jazz), it was similarly captivating, and one of the set's many clear milestones.

Beyond being one of the most distinctive drummers of his generation, Sanchez has evolved, since his first solo album for Cam Jazz, 2007's presciently titled Migration, as a composer of note. There's little doubt that his lengthy tenure with Metheny has influenced the drummer's often complex, often episodic and multi-part writing. But his own experiences, musical and otherwise, have contributed to the complexion of his writing, and so if there are traces of Metheny to be found in Sanchez's compositions, they're just that: traces.

There were plenty of other touchstones, including the thundering rock rhythms that concluded "Lines in the Sand Part 2" and Sanchez's entire FIJM performance, which anchored Escreet's overdriven, ring-modulated solo halfway through its two parts. And, for a drummer-led band, Sanchez may have limited his own solo space, but when he did, as he did right near the end of the set, it was focused, compositionally oriented and utterly thrilling,

Furthermore, Sanchez's music is as tightly tied to his experience as a Mexican expat living in the USA since 1993, and who has held dual citizenship for the past three years: "Perfect timing," he quipped during one of his introductions. "Now they can arrest me but they can't deport me." It was a clear statement about the racial profiling that has increased significantly since Trump took office. Sanchez's lengthy but important introductions at a couple of points during the set helped clarify the life and music resonances and influences that have driven his writing.
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