Live Jazz: The Antonio Sanchez Quartet at a Jazz Bakery Moveable Feast

By Michael Katz

“Migration,” the name of the quartet led by drummer Antonio Sanchez, seemed an adept name for a group headlining the latest in the Jazz Bakery’s Moveable Feast Series. The Bakery, which was uprooted from its Westside home, is on a peripatetic journey which has taken it to downtown, Hollywood and points in between.

Ruth Price has demonstrated a feel for booking programs that fit the surroundings and so it was Saturday night at the Musicians Institute just off Hollywood and Highland. With its low ceiling and informal atmosphere, it seemed a perfect place for a group that explored the boundaries of free-form jazz.

Antonio Sanchez

You might expect a group fronted by a drummer to feature the pyrotechnics of a Buddy Rich or the out-front dynamism of Elvin Jones, but Sanchez has a more subtle, pulsating rhythm that focuses on the interplay between musicians. Without a piano, the interplay between Sanchez and superb bassist Scott Colley became intricate,  Sanchez alternating brisk stick work and occasional brushes with Colley’s intelligent bass lines. The melodies and flights of improvisation were handled by Donnie McCaslin on tenor sax and David Binney on alto, the two of them pairing off on each number, alternating the lead, responding to each other in ways composed or not,  playing off the rhythms of Colley and Sanchez.

The group played mostly  pieces from their Migration album, plus Miles Davis’ “Nardis,” though in all of them the main compositional line was only a launching point for various permutations of the four players searching out musical boundaries. In the opening “Greedy Silence,” Sanchez began with a haunting brush of the cymbals, then gave way to McCaslin, who started in the lower registers of his tenor and seemed to circle upwards,  eventually stepping aside for Binney to respond on his alto in searing counterpoint. Colley and Sanchez dropped in to lead the number back to its original line.  “Nardis” had the most familiar melody, though it was Colley and Sanchez who gave the tune its mystery, Colley starting off on the bass and Sanchez countering with stick work against the rims of his traps and hand-tapping in a gentle, conga-like style. McCaslin again opened the horn soloing, with Binney in response, and Colley leading an urgent bass line to the finish.

“Ballade” was a lovely improvisational exercise, as Sanchez asked his sax players for an introduction (“That’s how we do it in jazz.”) and the two of them launched into a stunning duet, while Sanchez laid back, eventually contributing elegant brushwork, while Colley juxtaposed his bass lines with McCaslin and Binney. Without the chordal backing of a piano, this format really emphasizes the ability of the quartet to reach out to each other, sort of like a musical jigsaw. It was not a concert where you walk out humming the tunes, but an exploration  blending musical sensitivities. “Challenge Within” had the most upbeat line, with Binney this time taking the lead, asserting himself on a strong dance through the alto’s mid-tones, and leaving it for McCaslin this time to respond in robust fashion. Antonio Sanchez closed out with a surging solo, saving his best for the final number, alternating lithe stick rhythms with his right and left hand, much to the appreciation of the healthy crowd.

All in all it was another example of the diversity of jazz, truly a moveable feast.

To read more posts by Michael Katz click here.

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