After moving to New York in 1988, Puerto Rico-born tenor saxophonist David Sanchez emerged on the scene as a promising young postbop firebrand apprenticing in bands led by Paquito D’Rivera, Claudio Roditi and Charlie Sepulveda. Twenty years later, Sanchez is a seasoned player, composer and bandleader in his own right with a string of seven impressive recordings for the Columbia label dating back to 1994’s The Departure. His Concord Picante debut marks a key personnel change from his last three outings: 2000’s Melaza, 2002’s Travesía and 2004’s Coral. Instead of relying on alto saxophonist Miguel Zenon as his frontline counterpart, Sanchez joins forces with guitarist Lage Lund on the adventurous Cultural Survival, which marks the first time that Sanchez has ever recorded with guitar.
The tight, cascading unison lines that Lund (a 2005 Thelonious Monk Guitar Competition winner) executes with warm tone and uncanny precision alongside Sanchez on appealing, open-ended vehicles like “Manto Azul,” the expansive 20-minute “La Leyenda del Cañaveral” and the edgy title track, recall the telepathic chemistry that Kurt Rosenwinkel and Mark Turner have forged over time on the bandstand. Lund’s flowing lyricism and pianistic comping also figure prominently on Sanchez’s tough, African-flavored “Coast to Coast” as well as on a gorgeous, reverential take on “Monk’s Mood,” which is beautifully underscored by Adam Cruz’s sensitive brushwork and Ben Street’s near-subliminal bass lines.
Pianist Danilo Pérez, who hired Sanchez in his own band during the ’90s, appears as special guest on “Manto Azul” and is featured extensively on the surging title track. The dramatic rubato piece “The Forgotten Ones” (written for the people in turmoil in New Orleans and Haiti) showcases the empathetic and highly interactive rhythm tandem of drummer Henry Cole and bassist Hans Glawischnig along with special guest pianist Robert Rodriguez, while the angular, off-kilter funk of “Ay Bendito” reflects a modernist M-Base aesthetic. And for pure tenor burn, Sanchez dazzles on a jazzy rendition of Eddie Palmieri’s salsa classic “Adoración,” in which he alternately conjures up Wayne Shorter’s enigmatic harmonies and Sonny Stitt’s razor-sharp attack and abundant chops. But this recording, dedicated to the late saxophonist Mario Rivera and Cuban bassist Cachao, is more of a showcase of thoughtful compositions and overall vision than mere chops, representing yet another step in Sanchez’s evolution as an artist.