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A new recording by David Sánchez is an occasion to celebrate. That’s decidedly the case with Carib (Ropeadope), the Puerto Rican-born tenor saxophonist’s first release as a leader since 2008’s Cultural Survival. While the earlier album found him sourcing the music of the Baca Forest people of southeastern Cameroon, on the new project he returns his focus to the Caribbean, namely, Haiti.
Joined by an A-list quintet — pianist Luis Perdomo, guitarist Lage Lund, bassist Ricky Rodriguez and drummer Obed Calvaire, plus a coro of two hand drums — Sánchez navigates 11 original compositions that explore the intersection of various Haitian rhythmic dialects with bomba, the Afrocentric Puerto Rican dance idiom that he played during his teens. All this is articulated with the harmonic language and interactive imperatives of jazz modernism.
“I’ve always been struck by the similarities, and a lot of the terms used in bomba were Creole, not Spanish,” says Sánchez, who was in New York City in early June for a four-night run at the Jazz Standard. The saxophonist, who turned 51 in September, made fieldwork sojourns to Haiti in 2014 and 2016. “Haitian culture is fascinating and perhaps misunderstood,” he continues. “It’s the second sovereign nation in the Americas [founded] through emancipation and revolt; then they were embargoed and were immediately alienated. The [Haitian] influence is very evident in Cuban son, in the music of [the city of] Mayaguez in Puerto Rico, and in New Orleans.” That Sánchez integrates pan-African influences so seamlessly perhaps emanates from his process of generating the songs via “thinking only of melody, then putting rhythms to that melody, which is different than what I’ve done before. Sometimes I’d start singing and then start playing. Then I’d tape it and then return to elaborate with bass lines and harmonic voicings on the piano.”
In 2011, Sánchez collaborated with trumpeter Christian Scott, vibraphonist Stefon Harris and Cuba-based musicians on Ninety Miles; since 2012, he’s been heavily involved with the SFJazz Collective. His immersion in these ventures may explain his hiatus from recording as a leader, as does the illness of his wife, Karla, who died in 2017 after a five-year battle with cancer.
The San Juan native began exploring ways to integrate jazz, classical and dance music on five albums between 1994 and 2000 on which he recontextualized the folkloric beats and melodies of Puerto Rico, most notably the bomba and the plena. On those albums, as on Carib, Sánchez blends control and abandon. He avoids licks and wastes no notes on his solo flights. “I’m thinking strictly as a composer while improvising,” he says. “I follow the rhythm, the cadences, to get inside the song — the cadence is the light. I’m not trying to force anything. The rhythm also helps the sound, because you know when to hold the note, when to space, when to react to something from the drums or the harmonic flow.”
Now planning deep dives into the music of Colombia, the Dominican Republic and the American South, Sánchez intends to keep on pushing. “I’m from the Caribbean, and I have Afro descent, but that doesn’t label me or tell me to express myself in only one way,” he says. “I’ve had different experiences throughout life, and they’re going to come out. It’s not just banging and slamming; there’s beauty in it and there’s poetry in it.” - Ted Panken https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B-LGso7HypA