Antonio Sanchez may be best known to many as Pat Metheny’s powerhouse drummer since 2002 (besides projects with the likes of Gary Burton, Michael Brecker, and Chick Corea). But the fact of the matter is, with three superb solo albums under his belt (two studio; one live), Sanchez deserves to be recognized as an extremely talented composer and bandleader in his own right. Case in point: his new studio offering New Life – eight original tunes brimming with adventurous melodies and (no surprise) luscious layers of rhythms.
Sanchez’ team for New Life includes a pair of killer sax players (Dave Binney on alto; Donny McCaslin on tenor), pianist John Escreet, and Matt Brewer on bass. The quintet wastes no time in proving itself: the opening moments of “Uprisings And Revolutions” are a study in simmer and shimmer with some immense power barely beneath the surface. The song slowly fills with tension as Sanchez’ drums roll and tumble with Brewer’s rumbling bass while the horns slowly work their way through a unison melody line (complemented by Escreet’s piano). Sanchez locks in hard on a groove at the 1:45 mark, going to work while the rest of the band weave their individual threads of the song’s complex melody (Brewer included). The horns break clear with Binney and McCaslin taking turns exploring the song’s uncharted territory, letting go with cool abandon before handing off to the drums and bass. Escreet actually holds down the fort on the groove for a bit as Sanchez repeatedly challenges himself (rising to the occasion each time) and Brewer caulks the spaces. Eventually the ensemble falls back into “Uprisings”’ main theme and lets it glide to a halt. The structure of Sanchez’ composition is brilliant; the places he and the band take it are even more so. It’s a great opening cut.
Escreet’s Fender Rhodes work shines on “Minotauro” and the goofy funkiness of “The Real McDaddy”; “Nighttime Story” is bookended by moments of sweet sax; “Family Ties” finds Binney and McCaslin bouncing improv ideas off each other until they fold in together as one to take the tune’s melody home; and at the heart of “Air” is some lovely acoustic bass by Brewer.
The album’s title track features guest Thana Alexa’s wordless vocals pulling off some formation flying with the band in a performance that’s both unique and beautiful. The 14-minute-plus track includes some intimate bass/piano moments, with Brewer’s fat-tone upright in a playful dance with Escreet’s piano.
Throughout it all Sanchez maintains a powerful presence without ever overpowering the songs: his arrangements and rhythmic output push each member of the band to dig deep into their own playing – resulting in performances by all that feel free and natural.
Antonio Sanchez’ future collaborations with others will continue to be projects to look forward to; but in the meantime, the man has firmly established himself as a leader. New Life is something to be proud of.
Brian Robbins is firmly established over at www.brian-robbins.com