From the opening notes on his latest CD—the Grammy-nominated Cultural Survival—saxophonist David Sánchez captures your attention with a sound as compact, muscular and lithe as a panther.
In a relatively short span of time (he’s 40) the Grammy-winning Puerto Rican native has developed a commanding and instantly recognizable sound. He’s also cooked up a compositional approach that blends the rigor and freedom of post-bop jazz with a subtle but unmistakable African/Caribbean sensibility rooted in dance.
It’s jazz with an accent, a big, full-hearted tone and emotional lyricism.
On Thursday, Sánchez brings it to the Outpost with his quartet, including Lage Lund (guitar), Orlando Le Fleming (bass) and Henry Cole (drums).
No doubt his time playing with Eddie Palmieri in the late ’80s and in Dizzy Gillespie’s United Nation Orchestra in the early ’90s helped mold Sánchez’ compositional approach, but the braiding of influences started much earlier.
Sánchez began his musical journey as a percussionist when he was 8, playing congas until he was 16. “The percussion base extremely influences my writing, even without me being completely aware of it,” he says. “It’s something that really just comes out.”
“The pace—waiting and reacting to each other—requires a special kind of listening.”
While he was exploring the rhythms of Cuba and Puerto Rico, he was also listening to the European and Latin classical repertoires, as well as other Latin styles. At age 12, he picked up the saxophone, and two years later, he discovered jazz, which instantly became due north for his musical compass.
While critics have debated whether Sánchez’ music is jazz or Latin jazz, as far as he’s concerned, the question is moot. “It definitely comes out of the jazz way of interacting, meaning improvisation. Not only that, but the pace—waiting and reacting to each other—requires a special kind of listening,” he says. “So in that sense, jazz is definitely the backbone. ... But maybe I would have to include then the different categories and styles of music that I have been influenced by.” His list ranges from African folk to Western art music.
On Cultural Survival, Sánchez makes a big change in his usual instrumentation. Except for three tracks, he gives up the piano, and on every track he replaces the second sax with a guitar to emphasize the music’s Afro-Caribbean folk qualities.
Sánchez chose Lund, winner of the 2005 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Guitar Competition, to fill the guitar seat. “He has a beautiful sound,” says Sánchez. “The textures of his voicings are really beautiful, and I like the effect it creates with the horn.”
It’s the first time Sánchez has worked consistently with a guitarist—they’ve been playing together for more than 18 months—and it’s a new experience for the saxophonist.
“With the guitar, obviously you’re going to have a lot of space,” he says. “As opposed to the piano, it’s a more horizontal instrument, so you can create contra lines. That alone is going to definitely change the way you approach music.
“It’s a work in progress,” he says. For him, maybe. For listeners, it’s a work that has progressed all the way to a well-deserved Grammy nomination.