A 45-minute drive to the California Center for the Arts in Escondido proved worthwhile for those who made the trip to hear David Sanchez, the Puerto Rican tenor and soprano saxophonist, on Jan. 23.
With no intermission, the set comprised six new compositions being worked up for Sanchez's next CD. The special concert was co-sponsored by La Jolla's Athenaeum Music & Arts Library.
With Edsel Gomez at the piano, Hans Glawischnig, bass, Pernell Saturnino, percussion, Miguel Zenon, alto sax, the lineup was essentially the same band that Sanchez has been performing and recording with for two years, with the notable exception of Mexican Antonio Sanchez (no relation), who sat in on drums in place of the legendary Horacio "El Negro" Hernandez.
"Pernell Saturnino is a real ace in this band," the Athenaeum's program director Dan Atkinson said of the Curacao-born percussion maestro who is in great demand. The music opened up at full tilt with the lopsided post-bop rhythms of a track called "Sentinila." This was not the lyrical David Sanchez of the 1998 CD "Obsession." While the sound remains unmistakably Latin, it's a cosmopolitan, urban Latin that may be Sanchez's response to having lived in New York since 1988.
Time and again, through the set, Sanchez showed his commitment to melding the tradition of harmonized bop horns with that of Puerto Rican percussion. In a flash, he put down his sax to rattle out the rhythm with a pair of drum sticks upon the back of Saturnino's congas.
The second composition, entitled "Canto a Loiza," represented a slightly more bomba-oriented rhythm. The percussionist Saturnino stood downstage with his full arsenal of swirly effects and tried everything short of shaking his car keys at the audience.
Whis was followed by "El Orgo," a different style of bomba written by Miguel Zenon, to which Sanchez's sax solo brought an Oriental flavor. Then Zenon played a moody tenor on the ballad "Bela Cancao," while drummer Antonio Sanchez kept a discreet beat with his big fluffy drum sticks.
"Against Our Will" started with a slow build to create a sophisticated groove by laying down a nicely bubbling rhythm on percussion, drums and piano, before both horns harmonized a hard chorus over the top. Letting this mixture run at a low simmer may be the recipe Sanchez was looking for.
Ultimately, "San Juan" was the grand finale in which all the pieces seemed to come together. Saturnino was hammering away on the congas. This savvy sound would go well in a trendy Manhattan espresso bar but, in a 400-seat concert theater it came across as the best of six takes. Even the Athenaeum's Atkinson later cofided that he would have preferred a more varied set.
Jazz concerts at the Athenaeum Music & Arts Library continue at 1008 Wall St. on Sunday. Feb 20 when guitarist Russell Malone will appear with Mike Wofford, piano, and Bob Magnusson, bass. For reservations or information call 454-5872.