Thursday, April 9, 2015

Similar Lineups, Different Sounds, Great Music

Marta Sánchez is a composer/pianist from Madrid, Spain, who came to the United States in 2011 to study at NYU. She had already begun to capture critical attention as a member of the Afrodisian Orchestra as well as appearing on recordings with vocalists Doris Cales and Natalia Calderon.   Before moving to New York City, Ms. Sánchez had released a both a trio and quartet CD.

Her self-produced latest recording, "Partenika" (Fresh Sound New Talent) features an international quartet of musicians based in the United States.  Alto saxophonist Román Filiú (Cuba), tenor saxophonist Jerome Sabbagh (France), bassist Sam Anning (Australia), and drummer Jason Burger (California) are her cohorts on the 8-song program, one that will surprise listeners in its melodic and emotional range, in how the individual voices move easily and freely around each other, thanks to the delicate yet exquisite melodies and harmonies the pianist creates. Though she is the leader, Ms. Sánchez often cedes the initial solos to the front line, teaming with Anning and Burger to build the foundation of the songs.  However, she has her moments.  "Yayyyy" rushes forward delightfully with the pianist setting the pace for the saxophonists to play her contrapuntal melody.  The piano solo is a joyous romp, a musical interpretation of the cheer inherent in the title of the song. There is much pleasure and little pain in "Patella Dislocation" (at least for the listener) which leaps forward on the throbbing bass notes and raucous drum work. Yet, listen to how Ms. Sánchez's piano swirls in the background (sounding somewhat like Myra Melford) and that sets the stage for the legato section in the middle of the piece.  The title track, the longest on the disk at 8:49, opens with a long melodic bass solo before moving into a gentle yet uptempo piece. The rhythm section once again roams freely underneath the alto sax solo here, slowly down for the tenor spotlight (a solo ripe with percussive phrases amongst the lines.)

The ballads really stand out.  "Ballad Del Momento" has a martial rhythm in the opening left-hand piano work while the right sketches the melody along with the reeds. Filiú takes the first solo, his breathy tone (a touch of Lee Konitz) soaring over the active rhythm section.  Throughout the recording, the piano backing makes for essential listening. In this case, Ms. Sánchez not only frames the piece but also give Anning and Burger the freedom to create an ever-changing bottom.  "Andy" feels like a prayer but, again, the bottom keeps shifting beneath the soloists.  Sabbath plays with great fire, his rippling phrases woven around the piano chords. Time slows down for the piano solo, a portrait of a restless spirit that soon turns into a dance as the bass and drums respond to the darting lines of the solo.

"Partenika" is a delightful recording that gives the interested listener much to dig into.  Melody and harmony are important to Marta Sánchez but no more than the shifting rhythms that one hears on most tracks.  Make sure to go back to listen to her piano work, especially her active left hand and intelligent solos that stretch across the canvas of this album.  If you get the opportunity, see and hear this band live - it has to be a treat to watch the interactive nature of this music come to life.

For more information, go to    

E. J.Strickland, drummer and composer, is one busy musician. Besides playing in his twin brother Marcus's ensembles, he also has worked or continues to work with saxophonist Ravi Coltrane, pianist Luis Perdomo, guitarist Russell Malone, and trumpeter David Weiss.

"The Undying Spirit" (Strick Muzik) is his second CD as a leader; his debut, "In This Day", was issued in 2009. Like the CD reviewed above, the recording features an alto saxophonist (Jaleel Shaw), tenor saxophonist (brother Marcus, who doubles on soprano), piano (Mr. Perdomo) and bass (Linda Oh). E.J. is a vibrant drummer, active yet rarely intrusive, knows how to swing yet can lay down a mighty funky beat.  In fact, the program opens with "Ride", the drummer laying down a "righteous rhythm" for 1 minute before the band enters, the unison saxophones laying out the melody over the solid bass lines of both Perdomo and Ms. Oh.  The piece takes its time to allow the saxophonists to play the melody through twice before Marcus and Shaw to play back and forth.  Perdomo steps out in style while never losing touch with the rhythmic nature of the melody.  There are several pieces along the way that really jump out of the gate on the force of E.J.'s explosive drumming.  Songs such as "Hindsight", the high-energy "Bomba for Leel and Max", the forceful "A Dance for Mojo's Return", and the subtly funky "Transcendence",  all burst out of the gate on the power of the rhythm section.  Perdomo's left hand and solid chordal work blends so well with Ms. Oh's powerful lines.  The saxophonists takes full advantage of the foundational work of the piano, bass and drums to roar, soar and fly, coaxing powerful lines of their own.

That said, the ballads are quite impressive.  "For My Home Folks" is a bluesy prayer-like piece, with the saxophonists "testifying" while Perdomo's piano goes to church to support them. The emotional tenor solo is fiery and fierce, going for the jugular.  Marcus's soprano leads the way into "Ballad for All Mankind" and, when Shaw enters, his counterpoint helps to give the piece its depth and dramatic feel.  The tracks also features a fine solo from Ms. Oh, supported by quiet piano chords and the "rat-a-tat" from the snare drum.  Ms. Oh's solo also stands out on "Midnight's Clearing", setting the stage for a heartfelt statement from Perdomo. Listen to how E.J. supports them, quiet cymbal splashes, floor tom rolls and gentle high-hat.

By the time you reach the final track, "Impromptivity", you can hear how this music takes its cue from the work of drummers Art Blakey, Max Roach and Ralph Peterson Jr. without sounding like any of them  This music crackles with excitement yet leaves room for impassioned melodies.  You'll also be impressed by the solos, each person building what they "say" from the themes of the pieces.  After you get the CD and spend time with this powerful music, you'll want to hear the quintet live.  Go to to find out where and when plus more about the drummer.

Here's a generous taste of the "Bomba for Leel and Max";

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