El Rayo de Luz (Fresh Sound New Talent)
Marta Sánchez Quintet
Released November 22, 2019
New York Times Best Jazz Albums of 2019
Composition is more important to jazz than ever. The
best and brightest are working away at their detailed scores, trying to make
fresh sense out of the explosion of great American music from the last century.
It is helpful for every practitioner to draw on their own folklore. Marta Sanchez is from Madrid, and her modern jazz reflects something ineffably Spanish: Not in an overbearing way, but just as a visible part of the overall design. It’s important not to deny your roots, whatever those roots may be. You are who you are
I wrote the liner notes to Sanchez’s first Fresh Sound quintet disc Partenika. At the time I was pleasantly surprised at her command of composition, especially her unforced competence when writing for two saxophones. Five years later, her third disc in this configuration is considerably more advanced and offers more exposed piano improvisation.
Cascadas Right away we are plunged into this distinctive sound world, a style unique to this ensemble, with “cascades” of saxophone on top of rich contrapuntal harmony. Chris Cheek is almost the band’s elder statesman, a master soloist with an approach both virtuosic and oblique. Sanchez’s own feature offers a kind of tough elegance that she has grown into since moving to New York City, still the best place for young players to test their mettle.
Parmesano This is really beautiful formal composition, with expressive saxophones drawing on the Ellington tradition. Roman Filiu talks through his alto with a dark sound and technique to burn: Filiu and Cheek are a good match. Indeed, since Cheek plays high on his horn and Filiu can play quite low, occasionally one must listen hard to determine who is playing. It’s a smooth combination.
Nenufar Moody dreams begin at the piano before moving to the rest of the ensemble. Sanchez told me Debussy was a direct influence on this piece: perhaps there is also a hint of Wayne Shorter in the overall aesthetic, with those glowing suspended chords ,and fragments of melody that question and answer each other in unexpected yet satisfying ways. When blowing, Cheek’s organizing principles owe something to Shorter as well. Throughout the album, Rick Rosato and Daniel Dor breathe on each feel in an organic way, driving or relaxing as needed.
El Cambio Phrases with potentially awkward leaps in made earthy by Dor’s groovy pulse. The ensemble really heats up behind Filiu’s brainy and soulful improvisation. Sanchez herself gets a solo cooks along, darting in and out of the rhythm.
El Rayo de Luz Sanchez says, “This piece is informed by concepts that I learned in a Rogerio Boccato workshop called ‘Ritmica’ that teach you how to have two different times signature happening at the same time.” Fillu and Rosato both get a chance to navigate an attractive chord sequence.
I Will Miss You Begins in with some of the most abstract sounds on the disc. After a rhythmic and lyrical solo from Filiu, Sanchez splashes impressionistic sounds up and down the keyboard, finding her way back to a more conventional argument.
Dead Flowers A lonely chorale introduces a loping combination of four and six, a perfect texture for Dor’s charismatic drumming. Rosato’s bass is right in there as well, anchoring and prodding the time. The rhythmic interlude after the piano improvisation is notably aggressive and appealing. Cheek runs with the power and plays another great solo.
Unchanged Has the most “difficult” progression in rhythm section, a big challenge for the soloist, and both Filiu and Cheek take it apart on their own terms. The band aces the hard chart, and their enjoyment is self-evident. From Spain to Brooklyn and back to Fresh Sound: it’s a lot of fun all around.
1. Cascadas (Marta Sánchez) 05:59
2. Parmesano (Marta Sánchez) 05:35
3. Nenufar (Marta Sánchez) 06:55
4. El Cambio (Marta Sánchez) 06:48
5. El Rayo De Luz (Marta Sánchez) 06:07
6. I Will Miss You (Marta Sánchez) 06:02
7. Dead Flowers (Marta Sánchez) 05:19
8. Unchanged (Marta Sánchez) 04:45
Roman Filiu: alto saxophone
Chris Cheek: tenor saxophone
Marta Sanchez: piano
Rick Rosato: bass
Daniel Dor: drums
Recorded June 12 – 13, 2019, at Brooklyn, by Andy Taub
Mixed and Mastered by Michael Perez Cisneros
Edited by Matt Marantz
Album Cover by Alicia Martin Lopez
Produced by Marta Sánchez
Executive-Producer: Jordi Pujol
When pianist Marta Sánchez moved to New York in 2011, she already had become known as one of the most promising musicians in Spain. Since then she has started to amass an impressive catalog of original music, particularly with her quintet, built on wandering, polyphonic melodies rooted in the plangent beauty of the Spanish folk tradition.
Her compositions are lyrical and infectious and never overly mannered. They remind us that a great chamber-jazz composer can inject vitality into well-trodden influences (Guillermo Klein, Carla Bley, Andrés Segovia, Claude Debussy) if she roots them in her own history. Pretty soon, Sánchez might enjoy the kind of fandom in New York that she does in Madrid.
The folk quality in Sánchez’s music comes through in two ways: via her shapely melodies and the illusion of collective invention in her quintet’s sound. Since her first quintet record, Partenika (2015), the major story of this ensemble has been her ability to coalesce multiple lines—played on alto and tenor saxophone, and piano—into a purling stream. It’s not quite right to call this music singable, as if you’d be able to carry it home in your head, humming a single line back to yourself. But it feels like you ought to be.
On El Rayo De Luz, Román Filiú’s alto saxophone and Chris Cheek’s tenor trace the skyline of each composition: What each saxophonist plays tends to be rather simple, coming in longish tones, rather than zigzags or angular leaps. But their roles are so intertwined that it’s always hard to know who’s in the lead and who is the support. It’s as if Sánchez has invented a new form of hocketing.
Below the horns, the rhythm section spins a web of complexity. She plays counterintuitive patterns and twirling phrases with a lithe, gliding touch on the piano, adding an element of gentle agitation, sparring with Rick Rosato’s bass and Daniel Dor’s drums, ensuring that these tunes levitate even as they weave. (Her love for six- and nine-beat time signatures helps with that.)
On “Unchanged,” the album’s closer, each chord Sánchez plays sounds as if it were a few inches further off the ground than the last. As Cheek improvises a steady, smearing solo, half of what he invents seems like it could be the written-out melody of another song.
Filiú begins “Parmesano” with a stream of long, bending notes, sounding wistful and secretly pained. Cheek sprinkles a descending melody over him, and the rhythm section fills in with splashes of caution and apprehension. Later, with Dor’s rolling beat starting to resemble a bolero, Sánchez lays out for two full minutes. She only returns at the end, pulling things back to center with a sharp, short, piano-bass-drums coda. It’s a reminder that all of this lovely, loosely unspooled music began somewhere: in the fastidious province of her mind, as a notion of something that should be shared.