December 2007

Antonio Sanchez:Making Time for the Masters

Sometimes you have to create time to make things happen. That certainly was then case for Antonio Sanchez’s overdue debut disc, Migration (CamJazz). He’s been a constant in-demand drummer since arriving on the scene at the tail end of the ’90s, recording and/or touring with a host of A-list musicians, among them Pat Metheny, Avishai Cohen, Danilo Perez and Luciana Souza. As his reputation for his highly responsive playing grew, securing time to focus on his own music became all the more difficult. “I wasn’t sure if I would be able to pull it off,” Sanchez says about the making of Migration. “I would set aside some time to write some music, but something would always come up. I just couldn’t get it done.”

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Bill Bytsura

Antonio Sanchez

Interestingly though, Sanchez found time to write the original material for the album during one of the busiest times of the year: the Christmas holiday. He went home to Mexico City and wrote the music during two concentrated weeks. Still, he says that the writing process took place amidst much Yuletide hustle and bustle. “It was very hard, because in December in Mexico things are crazy. Everybody is doing stuff for the holidays in the house, so it was almost a disaster, he recalls. “But I said to myself, ‘Well, it’s now or never.’”

Whether it’s coincidental or not, there’s a noticeable “hustle and flow” vitality that seeps through much of Migration. That’s not to say that the disc sounds like a rush job. Sanchez scripts some fine material to exemplify his quick reflexes; and the composition prompts riveting dialogue among the musicians, especially between the dual saxophone frontline of David Sanchez and Chris Potter. On the drummer’s bristling “Did You Get It?,” the two horn men volley incessant improvisations, before their passages coil into serpentine lines that writhe on top of Sanchez and bassist Scott Colley’s jostling rhythmic bed. “I wanted to write stuff on which they could really go at each other and come up with stuff they normally don’t do by themselves. They’re both amazing innovators and great players, but are so different from one another,” observes Sanchez of the two saxophonists. A bit more laidback but still distinguished with a demonic drive, “Challenge Within” ebbs and flows at a torrential pace. Sanchez’s take on Joe Henderson’s “Inner Urge” serves the song’s title admirably as he propels the music with jabbing accents, bustling cross rhythms and a relentless cymbal ride.

In addition to the invaluable assistance from David Sanchez, Potter and Colley, Migration also features two of Antonio Sanchez’s longtime musical heroes: Chick Corea and Pat Metheny, both of whom contribute original compositions, “One for Antonio” and “Arena (Sand),” respectively. “Pat is like a godfather to me. So many people have been exposed to my playing through my association with him. I owe so much to him,” Sanchez says. In regards to Corea, Sanchez says that he approached the legendary pianist and composer one day at a festival and insisted that he collaborate with him. “I said to him bluntly, ‘I really don’t want to die before I get a chance to play with you. So whenever I get a chance to play with you, it’ll be my honor.’”

Sanchez says that the disc’s title and artwork, which depicts an arid desert underneath dark clouds, serve as metaphors for his journey from Mexico to the United States in search of better opportunities as a musician. “I knew that if I had to stay in Mexico that my playing would suffer due to a lack of opportunity,” he says. “I wasn’t quite sure what was going to happen when I first arrived in the States. But things turned out way better than I thought they would be.”

His success is partly due to the fact that he began playing drums when he was only 5. Also, Sanchez grew up in an art-nurturing family. But it wasn’t a musical family; many of his family members focused on acting. Sanchez’s grandfather is noted actor Ignacio Lopez Tarso. “I was always immersed in acting, but it never really interested me,” Sanchez says, even though he did mention acting in a TV pilot alongside his grandfather when he was 8 years old. And even then, young Antonio played a little drummer boy in a traveling circus. “The moment I discovered drums, that was kind of it for me.”

Sanchez continued his involvement with music at the National Conservatory of Music in Mexico City, where he studied classical piano and composition. He says that he took on the challenge of learning piano because, at the time, he believed that he had already learned all that he needed to know about the drums. “That was out of sheer ignorance,” he explains. “Since I was solely a rock drummer who could play along to my favorite records, I thought that was it.”

It was through his introduction to jazz fusion, particularly the music of Corea’s Elektric Band and the Pat Metheny Group at one of the Conservatory’s ad hoc jazz workshops, that Sanchez realized that there were more rhythmic worlds to explore. So in 1993, after four years at the Conservatory, Sanchez enrolled at Berklee College of Music, where he earned a scholarship in jazz drumming and composition. After graduating magna cum laude from Berklee, he got another scholarship to the New England Conservatory’s jazz improvisation master’s program.

Playing and/or studying with demanding artists such as Metheny, Perez, Michael Brecker and Gary Burton has greatly helped Sanchez hone his pyrotechnics into something more nuanced, dynamic and interactive without extinguishing its fire, even during calmer moments. His extraordinary control of his chops and intriguing compositions up the ante on Migration, elevating it above a hastily assembled blowing session.

Aside for a couple of New York gigs, Sanchez has yet to lead his own jazz band and head out on the road. When asked if he’s developed a group concept, he mentions that he enjoys open-ended ensembles composed of bass, drums and two saxophonists, because it allows for greater opportunities for the members to stretch and for him to get away with a lot more without cluttering the music. But he’s also realistic about fully developing his own group thing, when considering his schedule. He says, casually, “I think it’s coming together.”

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