Thursday, October 3, 2019

Topically up to the minute, Antonio Sanchez and band present migration scenarios

There is an explicit sociopolitical context behind drummer Antonio Sanchez's music, guided with fire from the drum set and carried out by an intense quintet called Migration. Fortunately what the band plays doesn't depend
Antonio Sanchez focused on music from new album "Lines in the Sand."
overmuch on its extramusical significance. it delivers powerfully across a vivid tapestry of sound.

In remarks to the audience, the Mexico City native indicated his distress at the demonization of immigrants, refugees and asylum-seekers at our Southern border. But with his gratitude for his American career declared, the drummer-bandleader wants to make clear that Migration's music bears a positive message, suggesting that the United States will get past this dreadful unwelcoming phase.

"Long Road," with which the band opened its first set Wednesday night at the Jazz Kitchen, featured a protracted introduction from keyboardist John Escreet, slow and heavy-footed, as if to suggest the dreary advance of desperate people toward the Rio Grande and their hoped-for passage into a better life.

Wordless vocalism from the versatile voice of Thana Alexa, becoming louder as tenor saxophonist Chase Baird reinforced the melodic pattern, put the simple humanity of the people Sanchez has in mind foremost.  A piano solo with lots of drumming threaded through it indicated the ferocity of emotional identification with migrants from several countries in our hemisphere, as well as from troubled nations abroad. Sanchez spoke of the need "to feel empathy with other human beings" as an artistic mission he would like to see adopted beyond the world of art. He's made a good start in his specialty.

In other remarks to the audience, Sanchez emphasized his affinity for  crafting "cinematic sections"  in his music. This means that each piece is lengthy, episodic, and given a kind of narrative unity that can be hard to discern on first hearing. I also felt much of the first two pieces too loud and cluttered, though, in response to Sanchez's sensitive query, many of my fellow attendees found the volume level tolerable.

The parallel lines were clear in many places, at least, as in the lively duet Alexa and Baird sustained unaccompanied in the third piece, which had opened with a stunning drum solo against a simple riff on Orlando Le Fleming's bass guitar. Alexa achieved an emotion-laden, pop "belting" quality on the repeated line "You know where you come from" that evoked for me Grace Slick singing "Somebody to Love." Her variety of tone and articulation went far beyond that, however, and she seems to be a "scat" virtuoso as well. Late in the set, her scatting was neatly poised against Baird's fluid mastery of the EWI (electronic wind instrument).

That piece had opened with a thunderous drum solo, punctuated by a brief riff from Orlando Le Fleming's electric bass. It was one of a few distinct exhibitions of the leader's galvanic style. And when accompanying his colleagues, he was never far in the background, and the complexity of his rhythms outside the spotlight helped enhance their contributions.

That was particularly evident in the set finale, "Lines in the Sand." The suite-like piece is the title work in Sanchez/Migration's new recording. It includes some ramped-up vocals, a hard-charging Fender Rhodes solo and a spate of spoken-word verse, complete with echo effects. A quiet episode near the end had Escreet turning once again to the piano, characterizing a reflective ensemble coda to the performance. Clearly, for Sanchez  the lines in the sand drawn so crudely by our government are worth a spectrum of responses, from angry to lamenting, that music is uniquely capable of expressing.

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