The Caribbean con­tri­bu­tion SFJAZZ Col­lec­tive’s David Sánchez


Pasatiempo - - PASATIEMPO - Bill Kohlhaase

When the eight-piece SFJAZZ Col­lec­tive ap­pears Fri­day, Oct. 12, at the Len­sic Per­form­ing Arts Cen­ter, it will per­form the mu­sic of An­tônio Car­los Jo­bim in ar­range­ments penned by each of its cur­rent band mem­bers, in­clud­ing alto sax­o­phon­ist Miguel Zenón, pi­anist Ed­ward Si­mon, trom­bon­ist Robin Eubanks, and trum­peter Eti­enne Charles. Since its found­ing in 2004, the Col­lec­tive has been the jazz world’s equiv­a­lent of a su­per­group, a con­duit for some of mu­sic’s most am­bi­tious and ac­com­plished in­stru­men­tal­ists and com­posers. Pre­vi­ous mem­bers — be­gin­ning with the group’s found­ing artis­tic direc­tor, sax­o­phon­ist Joshua Red­man — are sax­o­phon­ist Joe Lo­vano, trum­peters Ni­cholas Pay­ton and Dave Dou­glas, vi­bra­phon­ist Bobby Hutch­er­son, and drum­mer Brian Blade. The cur­rent en­sem­ble in­cludes vi­bra­phon­ist War­ren Wolf, who ar­ranged Jo­bim’s “How In­sen­si­tive” and “No More Blues”; bassist Matt Brewer, who did “Olha Maria”; and drum­mer Obed Cal­vaire, who took on “Wa­ters of March” and “Cor­co­v­ado.” In past years, the en­sem­ble has re­flected on the work of select mu­si­cal giants Miles Davis, Th­elo­nious Monk, Joe Hen­der­son, Ste­vie Won­der, Her­bie Han­cock, and Michael Jack­son. The Col­lec­tive, I un­der the aus­pices of SFJAZZ Cen­ter, also com­mis­sions orig­i­nal pieces from its mem­bers, mak­ing its con­certs and record­ings not just a show­case for its in­stru­men­tal­ists but also for the cur­rent state of jazz com­po­si­tion.

David Sánchez joined the band in 2012. Be­fore that, the Puerto Ri­can-born sax­o­phon­ist had built his rep­u­ta­tion with a solid record­ing his­tory that be­gan in 1994, much of it for Columbia/Sony Mu­sic. His mu­sic, a di­verse, so­cially con­scious mix an­chored in the jazz tra­di­tion but of­ten uti­liz­ing Afro-Caribbean rhythms, earned Sánchez mul­ti­ple Grammy nom­i­na­tions and a pair of Latin Grammy awards. Some of those al­bums in­cluded fel­low Puerto Ri­can and alto sax­o­phon­ist Zenón, cur­rently the long­est stand­ing mem­ber of the Col­lec­tive.

Zenón and Sánchez both at­tended La Es­cuela Li­bre de Música Ernesto Ramos An­tonini in San Juan, but not at the same time. “When he came in, I had just grad­u­ated,” Sánchez said. “We didn’t meet at the school, but he told me later that we had some of the same teach­ers.” Sánchez at­tended Rut­gers Univer­sity when he first came state­side, study­ing with pi­anist Kenny Bar­ron, and play­ing gigs in New York with Paquito D’Rivera, among oth­ers. He even­tu­ally joined Dizzy Gille­spie’s United Na­tions Orches­tra in 1990. Zenón en­rolled at the Berklee School of Mu­sic in Bos­ton, and that’s where the two, Sánchez said, first met. “We were play­ing Scullers Jazz Club, and [pi­anist] Danilo Pérez was hang­ing out with us and he said, ‘Hey, you got to check out this kid from Puerto Rico.’ It was Danilo who brought me and Miguel to­gether. I heard him play and in­vited him to play with us. It was amaz­ing. He ac­tu­ally knew the ma­te­rial from my al­bums. He told me his ob­jec­tive, like mine, was to come to New York, to move to Brook­lyn, and play mu­sic. The rest is his­tory.”

Zenón, who’s an­nounced that this will be his last sea­son with the Col­lec­tive, didn’t sin­gle-hand­edly bring him into the group. “It’s never done that way,” Sánchez said. “No one chooses any­one to come. There’s a process, it’s a demo­cratic de­ci­sion from the band. The in­sti­tu­tion [SFJAZZ Cen­ter] gets in­volved. It’s taken to a vote.” The de­ci­sion as to which mu­si­cians the group will fo­cus on dur­ing an in­di­vid­ual sea­son is also demo­cratic. “Some­times it comes as a sug­ges­tion from the in­sti­tu­tion,’ ” Sánchez said. “They’ll send an email out and ask us how we feel about par­tic­u­lar choices and we take it from there. Usu­ally, it’s pretty easy. For ex­am­ple, when we did the 10-year an­niver­sary [in 2014], there was a de­ci­sion to re­flect and re­visit the first decade. Joe Hen­der­son

had for a long time been on our minds. He was orig­i­nally from Ohio but he spent most of his life in the San Fran­cisco Bay area, so he was like a na­tive son. It was a nat­u­ral choice.”

The band’s cur­rent ros­ter sug­gests an ob­vi­ous Afro-Caribbean slant, though that in­flu­ence doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily dom­i­nate the Col­lec­tive’s mu­sic. Put Zenón and Sánchez’s Puerto Ri­can her­itage along­side the Venezue­lan roots of pi­anist Si­mon, the in­flu­ence of Haitian par­ents on drum­mer Cal­vaire as he grew up in Miami, and trum­peter Charles’ study of mu­sic from Tobago and his na­tive Trinidad, and it’s easy to in­fer the mak­ing of a rhyth­mic jazz hy­brid that in­cludes the en­tire Caribbean rim. That’s been some­thing in the works since Sánchez started record­ing, get­ting be­hind a mu­sic that moves be­yond the Afro-Cuban rev­o­lu­tion that sprung from Dizzy Gille­spie’s work in the 1940s with per­cus­sion­ist Chano Pozo. “It’s funny how it works,” Sánchez said. “The band was pretty steady for a long time and then it started to change about the time that [trum­peter] Avishai Co­hen left [in 2015]. It was al­ways a nice blend of mu­si­cal tra­di­tions with an em­pha­sis on jazz per­spec­tive, but still to­tally mod­ern. Now we’re able to con­nect all our dif­fer­ent Afro-Caribbean ex­pe­ri­ences to­gether with that jazz in­flu­ence still be­ing present. Jazz is the plat­form from which we serve all these dif­fer­ent ways of mak­ing mu­sic.”

Sánchez has long been a stu­dent of the rhythms that de­vel­oped in the Caribbean as African slaves were brought in. He learned the pop­u­lar rhythms of Puerto Rico as he grew up and con­tin­ued to study its more re­gional styles, as well as those of the Caribbean at large. His 2000 record­ing Me­laza (Mo­lasses) em­ploys the bomba and plena rhythms that de­vel­oped in Puerto Rico af­ter the in­tro­duc­tion of slaves to har­vest the is­land’s sugar-cane crop. “Learn­ing these dif­fer­ent rhythms is a life­time process, ob­vi­ously,” Sánchez said. “I’ve al­ways been cu­ri­ous about all these dif­fer­ent forms and driven to learn the cor­re­la­tions, the con­nec­tions that ex­ist be­tween them. It’s fas­ci­nat­ing and amaz­ing, how they each have their own phras­ing but also how they’re all so con­nected.”

But Sánchez said the Afro-Caribbean in­flu­ences of the Col­lec­tive are only part of the story. “The Caribbean thing is an im­por­tant part of our mu­sic, but when I re­flect what’s go­ing on, not just in our mu­sic but in the world at large, I can see it’s a com­bi­na­tion of a lot of dif­fer­ent things. It’s a mix of Afro-Caribbean mu­sic, Latin mu­sic, clas­si­cal mu­sic, hip-hop, all these dif­fer­ent un­der­ground move­ments that have taken shape. They all fig­ure in. That’s the beauty of the mu­sic. It’s lim­it­less. As time goes by, it takes dif­fer­ent forms. It’s a re­flec­tion of what’s go­ing on in so­ci­ety. That’s the true beauty of jazz. It’s ideal for peo­ple com­ing to­gether to share their ex­pe­ri­ence and tal­ents. It’s what we could do if we all came to­gether.”

Pass­ing on what he has learned is a big part of Sánchez’s ca­reer and a nec­es­sary part, he said, of what it takes to sur­vive as a jazz mu­si­cian in to­day’s world. He has con­ducted mas­ter classes around the coun­try and in Brazil, and is cur­rently artist in res­i­dence at Ge­or­gia State Univer­sity. Prior to Hur­ri­cane Maria, he main­tained a reg­u­lar re­la­tion­ship with the Con­ser­va­to­rio de Música de Puerto Rico.

“Every­body’s re­al­ity is slightly dif­fer­ent,” he said on the sub­ject of what a ca­reer in jazz looks like to­day. “That’s the re­al­ity of the cur­rent state of the in­dus­try. You have to do dif­fer­ent things, you have to be open to em­brac­ing dif­fer­ent forms of mu­sic. That’s the way you can serve. And you learn when you do it. My gen­er­a­tion was still into just play­ing when I started out, go­ing out on the road, do­ing clubs, con­certs. That was our life. Things have shifted. Academia, the schools where jazz is stud­ied, has changed the whole scene. It’s not enough to just do one thing. You have to move around, ex­plore, find your place, but not for­get about be­ing au­then­tic to where you come from and what you do. Once you dis­cover what comes out of you nat­u­rally and that it re­ally feels au­then­tic, then that cre­ates the path, the place where things flow.”

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