Sparkle Beings (Sunnyside Records)

Angelica Sanchez Trio

Released September 23, 2022

New York Times 10 Best Jazz Albums of 2022

AllMusic Favorite Jazz Albums 2022




There are individuals in everybody’s life who stimulate the mind and imagination. If one is lucky enough, these special inspirations needn’t be historical figures. They can be friends and collaborators who can be met any day. Pianist/composer Angelica Sanchez holds many such stimulating figures close by and on her new recording, Sparkle Beings, she showcases potent examples of inspiration being channeled through remarkable people, past or contemporary.
Sanchez has been a stellar piano stylist and musical conceptualist in the New York scene for some time. She felt destined to get to New York even as a talented teenager from Arizona, telling the instructors and fellow students at the Ed Schuller led Sandpoint Music Camp in Idaho that she intended to move to the City. She did so the next year.

It was at Sandpoint that Sanchez met the great drummer, Billy Hart. Though Hart was one of the first masters that she interacted with, it has taken until now for Sanchez to invite Hart to record with her. Sanchez also invited her longtime friend and collaborator, bassist Michael Formanek, to take part. Long associations with both bandmates provide the knowledge of what they can do for the music but, also, the exciting feeling of not knowing where the music will go because of their creativity in the moment.
The trust that Sanchez places in Hart and Formanek ensures that the music they create will be stimulating. Sanchez also turns to a handful of composers to provide vehicles for the group’s expression. For the pianist, the lives and work of composers Mary Lou Williams, Duke Ellington, Mario Ruiz Armengol, and Cecil Taylor are all connected. The perpetually under-appreciated Williams inspired and tutored Ellington and Taylor. Mexican composer Armengol tutored Ellington, who gave him the nickname “Mr. Harmony.
To capture these moments, Sanchez turned to Maureen Sickler and the Rudy Van Gelder Studio in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, recording there on Dec. 10, 2021. It was Sanchez’s first time recording at the legendary studio and on its storied piano, whose keys many of Sanchez’s favorite pianists had played.

The program begins with Mary Lou Williams’s “A Fungus Amungus,” the angular, intervallic melody of the piece proving that Williams was not only a stylist but an important innovator predicting where jazz was going to go. Though completely improvised, “Generational Bonds” feels like a tune with the weight of musical elders pressing it. The feeling was heightened as Sanchez realized there were three generations of improvisers adding to the music’s gravitas. Cecil Taylor’s moody “With (Exit)” gets a rare trio performance, highlighting its intricate structure and emotive potential.
The haunting “Phantasmic Friend” is an otherworldly piano led group improvisation, while Mario Ruiz Armengol’s “Preludio a un Preludio” comes from a collection of etudes that Sanchez received from a friend. Formanek’s lovely, somber bass introduces the slow but expansive piece. The centerpiece of the album is the title tune, a long and focused improvisation that Sanchez felt reflected the effect of these particular special people, whose light is reflected in her life and music. The recording concludes with “Before Sleep / The Sleeping Lady and the Giant That Watches Over Her.” The first part is a composed interlude that transforms into Duke Ellington’s “The Sleeping Lady and the Giant That Watches Over Her” from his Latin American Suite, the gorgeously modern composition inspired by Mexico’s Popcatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl volcanos, blossoms under the command of these brilliant performers.
Inspirational people always live with you. They can come from memories of past or they may be sitting next to you. Angelica Sanchez recognizes that some of the illuminating people in her life can be interacted with on any given day. She chose to capture one special day with Billy Hart and Michael Formanek on their wonderful Sparkle Beings. 

Track Listing:

1. A Fungus Amungus (Mary Lou Williams) 07:39

2. Generational Bonds (Michael Formanek / Billy Hart / Angelica Sanchez) 11:12       

3. With (Exit) (Cecil Taylor) 05:12

4. Phantasmic Friend (Michael Formanek / Billy Hart / Angelica Sanchez) 05:55

5. Preludio a un Preludio (Mario Ruíz Armengol) 04:46

6. Sparkly Beings (Michael Formanek / Billy Hart / Angelica Sanchez) 15:24

7. Before Sleep/The Sleeping Lady and The Giant That Watches Over Her (Duke Ellington) 12:12


Angelica Sanchez: piano
Michael Formanek: bass
Billy Hart: drums

Recorded December 10, 2021, at Van Gelder Recording Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ

Engineer: Maureen Sickler

Mixing and Mastering: Ryan Streber

Graphic Design: Christopher Drukker


Pianist Angelica Sanchez is known for her colorfully inventive, often free-leaning post-bop jazz, a style she showcases on her vibrant 2022 trio album Sparkle Beings. While not her first trio album, it is the first to feature two veteran icons, bassist Michael Formanek and drummer Billy Hart. Her creative association with both artists is extensive, going back to 2003 for Formanek (who played on her debut), and to the ’90s for Hart (whom she met at a Gunther Schuller jazz workshop while she was a student). Since then, she has worked with Formanek extensively in various formations. Here, she brings both players together, exploring works by some of her biggest piano influences as well as her own compositions. While Sanchez often plays songs by other composers in her live shows, she rarely records them. This adds to the sense of illumination on Sparkle Beings, as if Sanchez is opening up a window on her development as an improviser. She takes on Cecil Taylor’s noir-ish fever dream “With (Exit),” diving into the song’s sneaky melody as Formanek and Hart twirl around her in woozy, bluesy reverie. A similarly spectral atmosphere permeates her spare deconstruction of Mexican pianist Mario Ruiz Armengol’s “Preludio a un Preludio.” The pianist’s own songs conjure an equally dreamlike quality, as on the title track, which starts with a rhythmic pattern from Hart that sounds like falling rain filmed in black-and-white before Sanchez and Formanek enter, adding bird-like color to the scene. Even more evocative, “Phantasmic Friend” is a slow-moving ballad in which Sanchez’s dusky chordal harmonies swirl around your head like smoke in a dark cafe.

Particularly compelling is her opening reading of Mary Lou Williams’ “A Fungus Amungus,” in which she and trio partners lunge back and forth in off-kilter harmony like a modern dance company. Later, on the closing track, she combines her song “Before Sleep” with Duke Ellington’s “The Sleeping Lady and the Giant that Watches Over Her,” a song culled from his 1972 album The Latin American Suite. Both tracks wryly straddle the line between swinging, urbane bop and the boundary-less free jazz of artists like Ornette Coleman, a balance Sanchez strikes throughout Sparkle Beings.

Matt Collar (AllMusic)