|Cleansing the Mind's Palate With Puerto Rican Rhythms
Published: 08 - 19 - 2000 , Late Edition - Final , Section B , Column 3 , Page 11
NEW YORK TIMES
By BEN RATLIFF
The new album by the saxophonist David Sanchez, ''Melaza'' (Columbia/Sony), is full of 16th-note runs, played by Mr. Sanchez and the alto-saxophonist Miguel Zenon, as they go through hairpin turns of Latin rhythmic accent; the writing is frequently complicated, in a jazz sense, and rather busy. Mr. Sanchez's set at the Blue Note late Wednesday night, on the other hand, was lighter on composition and seemed to be all about clearing the mind.
Written parts fell away quickly; a thrashing carpet of rhythm established itself between the drummer, Antonio Sanchez; the bassist, Hans Glawischnig; and the percussionist, Pernell Saturnino. Mr. Sanchez was freed by that rich texture of drumming, often playing slowly and loosening up.
As an introduction to Mr. Sanchez's piece ''Against Our Will,'' Mr. Saturnino played a clay pot for a good long time, letting a rhythmic cycle take shape at its own speed. The vamps took over the set; the band left behind modern jazz as a harmonic construct, with all its moods of irresolution, and submerged themselves in six-way rhythms.
Both in the studio and onstage, Mr. Sanchez makes music with a definite plan. It's not swing-based jazz, nor is it trying to scale the wall of post-Coltrane expressiveness; though he has great range as a saxophonist, there's cultural specificity coming from the rhythm section that reins him in.
His new material borrows from 100-year-old Puerto Rican rhythms, bomba and plena; at one point, Mr. Sanchez and Mr. Zenon produced the tambourinelike pandero drums specific to plena, and tapped out complementing patterns. He is doing what so many of the smartest musicians of the Americas are doing, whether in jazz or rock or dance music: fueling futuristic ambitions with old vernacular traditions, and making music that easily claims art status and yet doesn't float away on self-generated intellect.