Antonio Sanchez & Migration ‘The Meridian Suite’ (CAM Jazz) 4/5

antonio-sanchezBorn in Mexico City, drummer Antonio Sanchez moved to New York City in 1999. He has since become one of the most sought after drummers on the international jazz scene, considered by many critics and musicians alike as one of the most prominent musicians of his generation. His playing is featured on over a hundred albums and he has recorded with some of the biggest names in jazz including Chick Corea, Michael Brecker, Charlie Haden, Chris Potter, David Sanchez, John Patitucci, Christian McBride and Gary Burton. It is perhaps though, his long term collaborations with Pat Metheny for which he has become most well known. Sanchez has been part of virtually every project the 20 time Grammy winner has undertaken since 2000, having recorded 8 albums together and toured extensively over the last 15 years. And this is a good place to begin when talking about “The Meridian Suite”, as there are some undoubted hints of The Pat Metheny songbook that shine out from Sanchez’s writing. There are times in fact, when you could be listening to an album by the guitarist, one of his better albums I might add, yet there are also moments where Sanchez achieves a fiercely strong originality, allowing for his own identity to rise to the surface with aplomb. Following the drummer’s critically acclaimed 2007 release “Migration”, and the 2013 album “New Life” last year saw a clear departure and showed the confidence of the drummer to break out and try something different with the double album “Three Times Three”, featuring three stellar trios; Brad Mehldau and Matt Brewer, John Scofield and Christian McBride, and Joe Lovano and John Patitucci. But it is “Migration”, Sanchez’s working band since 2011, that comes to the fore once more here, with Seamus Blake on saxophone, John Escreet on piano, and Matt Brewer on bass. The album also features guest appearances from guitarist Adam Rogers and vocalist Thena Alexa.

“The Meridian Suite” is essentially a 60 minute long piece written by Sanchez, split into five parts, pushing his compositional skills in a way that no other project has done before. Sanchez plays drums, keyboards and vocals throughout the suite, and his multi-faceted skills as a composer and performer are at the forefront of this riveting album. The suite opens with “Grids and Patterns” the tones, textures, beats and rhythms make for compelling listening, and the introduction of Thena Alexa’s vocals provide not only a warm, gentle beauty, but also a shift in character as the tune develops. This is also evident as the suite moves into the wonderful “Imaginary Lines”. Whilst the first part of the suite was in Metheny territory, this is very much Sanchez employing his own unique style, creating an immersive and quite beautiful soundscape that is both subtle and spellbinding in turns. As if to highlight this burgeoning originality, “Channels of Energy” is a tour de force which begins with Adam Rogers sculpting a wild and free guitar sound, with mesmeric keys and drums biting hard on this incredible piece of music. Almost Weather Report like in its infectious groove, the sax and vocal lines add to a sense of rhythmic compulsion as the track weaves a magical charm all of its own. The leader’s authority and skill remains steadfast on the more challenging “Magnetic Currents”, a strong point of the whole session being the unified cohesion as the whole band excel with mesmeric precision and character. The twenty plus minutes of “Pathways of the Mind” is a fabulous movement, complex and brilliantly constructed, it gives room for all the musicians to shine, with its structured musings twisting and turning, textures and colours defining borderless contours with deft skill and authority. Sanchez’s achievement on “The Meridian Suite” cannot be underestimated. His drumming is incomprehensibly good, making it clear if it wasn’t already, just why he is so sought-after and well respected. But it is his skill as a composer and band leader that really stands out here, and on this evidence there will surely come a time where his focus must shift from performing in other musician’s bands (albeit some of the best in the world), to dedicating more of his time and energy to his own projects; his talent is too good not to.

Mike Gates