Release date: May 20th 2008
Availability: CD, MP3 Download, iTunes
David Sanchez arrives with his eigth album as leader at a point of new artistic authority in this inspirational album. Part of that authority lies in the enhanced soundscape of his tenor sax (aided by reeds from Francois Louis and superb recording by Don Murray at Sear Sound NY). This is a revelation compared with earlier albums and places him firmly in the same rarified territory as Sonny Rollins, Wayne Shorter and Joe Henderson. But part of that authority also lies in the ease with which he can allow space to his co-musicians.
Here the partnership with Lage Lund on guitar is central. With the album based mainly around the lineup of a piano-less quartet (David Sanchez (tenor sax), Lage Lund (guitar), Ben Street (bass), Henry Cole or Adam Cruz (drums)), space is made very often in the form of sax/bass/drums or guitar/bass/drums trio sections; it takes real authority to stand back (as Miles Davis so often did) and let your musicians play.
For some time David Sanchez has been engaging with the issues surrounding the African diaspora; for example, how the uprooting of peoples to live under tyranny in the sugar fields of a country like Puerto Rica (his place of birth) and its long term consequences can be understood, brought into public awareness and valued. A poem by his sister Margarita points to the contradiction between the commonplace acceptance of molasses as an everyday commodity and the agony that went into its production. "Molasses, enriched by the blood of a people, harvested from a soil in agony, sprouts a tender shoot of hope".
And it is that hope that informs this music. For this, in the end, is the truth of the blues (and jazz) tradition; the triumph of hope over experience, the denial of bitterness, transcendence of the corrupting reality by a creativity that draws from those ancient roots and is so life affirming that it cannot be denied. The range, open mindedness and sheer musical inventiveness of "Cultural Survival" speaks eloquently to that transcendence. As David Sanchez says modestly of the album: "It's generally about the human condition."
Musically, the album is in clear post bop jazz territory. What might be regarded as latin influences lead not to Jobim or Cuban influenced jazz (as sometimes on earlier David Sanchez albums) but more to the introduction of those elements into mainstream jazz in a way similar to how this was achieved by Joe Henderson or Wayne Shorter.
This is apparent in the treatment of Thelonious Monk's "Monk's Mood", altered from the spiny piano blues plus John Coltrane of the original into a sensuous invocation that is wholly in the spirit of the innovators who had gathered at Minton's Playhouse. No surprise then, that Dizzie Gillespie was one of the far sighted who recognized David Sanchez's talents as a young musician and offered guidance and encouragement.
The other adaptation is Eddie Palmieri's "Adoracion", transformed from its salsa origins into high energy, shifting tempo post bop. David Sanchez appeared on the Eddie Palmieri album "Listen Here!" and acknowledges his admiration for his music in the liner notes to this album.
The remaining six tracks are all original compositions. "Coast To Coast", "Ay Bendito" and "The Forgotten Ones" make the most of the open piano-less quartet, presenting lithe music of spaciousness, intensity and beauty. David Sanchez's tenor sax forms the sure centre and Lage Lund's guitar playing is especially good, the interplay between the two instruments in the shared sections showing real rapport. Both featured quartets shine.
Danilo Perez (noted recently for his work in the Wayne Shorter Quartet) adds keyboards on "Manto Azul" and "Cultural Survival", filling out the sound with characteristic perceptiveness. Robert Rodriguez adds piano and Fender Rhodes to the final track, "La Leyenda del Canaveral".
"La Leyenda del Canaveral" is a twenty minute composition in itself. It is addressed specifically to the poem "Molasses" penned by David Sanchez's sister. The composition was commissioned by Chamber Music America's New Works: Creation and Presentation Programme and the Doris Duke Foundation and was first performed in Puerto Rico.on March 24, 2007 and then in New York on October 17, 2007. Musical influences include music from East Cameroon (particularly the Baca forest people), Tanzania, Ethiopia, Mali and the Caribbean. It is an ambitious piece that takes these sources as inspiration yet remains within the tradition of mainstream jazz.
"Cultural Survival", a landmark recording, deserves attention as an album of the year. Don't miss it.
Listen to streaming audio of the full track "The Forgotten Ones" here.
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