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Before & After with Antonio Sanchez

In search of the singular

Max Roach
Billy Cobham
Antonio Sanchez

After garnering well-deserved acclaim for his largely improvised solo drum score to the 2014 film Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)-just not from the Academy, which excluded the innovative work based on a technicality-Antonio Sanchez released two CAM Jazz albums, his fourth and fifth as a leader. Three Times Three showcases three distinct trios: with pianist Brad Mehldau and bassist Matt Brewer; with guitarist John Scofield and bassist Christian McBride; and with saxophonist Joe Lovano and bassist John Patitucci. The 43-year-old Mexican-born drummer has established a reputation as an accomplished trio player, perhaps most notably in the Pat Metheny Trio alongside McBride, but on this album he proves his bona fides as a composer, bolstering his rhythmic sensibility with deft, subtly crafted lyricism.

The Meridian Suite, Sanchez’s ambitious five-movement piece for his working quartet, Migration, boasts melodies that delve even deeper into complex harmony. Equally inspired by his experiences with Birdman and touring with Metheny in Meridian, Miss., the nearly hour-long suite captures a cinematic tonal palette with electric and acoustic elements. Meridian features Seamus Blake on tenor saxophone and EWI, John Escreet on piano and Fender Rhodes and Matt Brewer on acoustic and electric bass, as well as guitarist Adam Rogers and vocalist Thana Alexa.

Sanchez recently took a rare break from his busy touring schedule to sit down for this listening session at his home in the Jackson Heights neighborhood in Queens.

1. Max Roach

“Drums Unlimited” (from Drums Unlimited, Atlantic). Roach, drums. Recorded in 1966.

BEFORE: The beginning sounds like the beginning of “YYZ” from Rush, but it sounds like an older guy from the vocabulary. He knows what he’s doing-definitely. Some of it sounds like Max.

AFTER: I’m pretty sure I’ve heard it, but he’s obviously Max. When I do clinics, I always give them an example of the perfect question-and-answer technique for building solos, and I usually use “For Big Sid” [another solo performance from Drums Unlimited] to exemplify that. That one I think is more well known than this. It’s interesting, because usually when I think of Max I think of ultimate control and finesse. Of course, there’s tons of that here, but sometimes he kind of goes wild, which is really cool to hear.

2. Led Zeppelin

“Moby Dick” (from Led Zeppelin II, Atlantic). Jimmy Page, guitar; John Paul Jones, bass; John Bonham, drums. Recorded in 1969.

BEFORE: My man Bonham on “Moby Dick.” John was one of my earliest influences, and I’m very glad he was, because his feel and pocket are still something that I’m always trying to find-that relaxed, laidback feeling, but super groovy. Some people play behind the beat and it feels like it drags, but he plays behind the beat and it’s so groovy. Also, they were way ahead of their time-the whole band. [Learning Zeppelin’s music was] one of the first times I started playing odd time signatures, but it’s always rooted in the blues, which makes it the perfect combination. And the open solos he would take are very ahead of his time. Bonham was a beast, a monster, so experimental. Some of it sounds like Max almost. It’s pretty audacious to put a drum solo that long on an album like that.

Sometimes in rock bands nowadays they have that drum sound that seems a little generic to me. That’s why I miss Bonham so much, Stewart Copeland, guys that have a completely signature sound right off the bat. I think that’s really hard to get in rock these days. It’s a little watered down, and there are great drummers, but this is a different level. Even without accompaniment you can tell just from his sound who it is, and that’s really hard to do. He had tons of chops too. The way he builds the solo, obviously he knows what he’s doing. He definitely knows about composition. Yeah, you can’t go wrong with that.

3. Billy Cobham

“Prime Time” (from Reflected Journey, Purple Pyramid). Cobham, drums; Joe Chindamo, piano; Ira Coleman, bass. Recorded in 1992.

BEFORE: It reminds me of Mahavishnu. Very fusion-y sound.

AFTER: That’s probably why it sounded like Mahavishnu, because of Billy. I wanted to say Billy, but I wasn’t sure. It’s very fusion-y, but it’s swinging in its own way. From the sound of the cymbal, you can tell it’s not a straight-ahead guy. Very pingy and bright, and then that china [cymbal]-not too many people have the balls to use that china like that. And that single-stroke roll is legendary. It’s very basic, but Billy’s such a force of nature. Sometimes with fusion drummers the interaction is a little weird to me, but Billy’s interaction I think comes more from jazz. He’s very melodic, but that bass drum sound-his thing is more fusion. A lot of fusion guys are not very melodic, but he really plays with the toms as though they were a melodic instrument. This is great because the sound is different, but you can tell he knows the vocabulary. I also love using two snare drums; it’s a lot of fun.

4. Dewa Budjana

“Lamboya” (from Surya Namaskar, Moonjune). Budjana, guitar; Jimmy Johnson, bass; Vinnie Colaiuta, drums. Recorded in 2013.

BEFORE: Some of it sounds a little like Rush to me. The sound of the drum is very fusion-y-very quiet hi-hat and high-pitched snare. If it’s recorded recently, it sounds a little dated to me. It’s well played, but this would have been cool like 15 years ago.

AFTER: That’s Vinnie? I know about that album. I did a record with Dewa. He’s a bad dude. He can play, but because his music is very fusion-y, it depends on which musicians he’s using. That can completely change the aura of the music. And because Jimmy and Vinnie are consummate fusion players, it sounds very fusion-y. What always amazes me about Vinnie is that you think you know his style and vocabulary and you hear something else [he played on] and you can’t tell who it is. For example, on [Herbie Hancock’s Joni Mitchell tribute record, River: The Joni Letters, from 2007], I couldn’t recognize Vinnie at all. On that record he holds back and his sound is very different. He plays cymbals with sizzle, which he never does. So he’s very chameleon-like, but he’s one of the baddest dudes ever. That double bass drum-if I had waited until now, I would have known. That’s Vinnie.

5. Jack DeJohnette

“Museum of Time” (from Made in Chicago, ECM). DeJohnette, drums; Roscoe Mitchell, Henry Threadgill, saxophones; Muhal Richard Abrams, piano; Larry Gray, bass. Recorded in 2013.

BEFORE: It’s cool. I like it. It’s unpredictable. Was this recorded recently? They’re taking their time. It’s very dramatic. Does he go to sticks at some point? It’s like different movements of the same piece. It’s very loose. Some of it reminds me of Jack.

AFTER: I like it when drummers write stuff that almost has absolutely nothing to do with our instrument. He’s barely playing in the introduction. When somebody goes to sticks, it’s a lot easier to tell. As soon as he started playing the cymbal in time, I knew it was Jack. I admire Jack’s desire to really improvise. He’s one guy I can recognize the sound of, but it’s almost impossible to imitate for me. I can recognize the licks of pretty much any drummer except Jack, but because of that he’s so recognizable.

6. Francisco Mora Catlett

“Wemilere” (from Afro Horn MX, AACE). Mora Catlett, drums; JD Allen, Vincent Bowens, tenor saxophones; Alex Harding, baritone saxophone; Aruán Ortiz, piano; Roman Diaz, percussion. Recorded in 2012.

BEFORE: It’s cool because it’s got a really loose feel, but with the percussion it kind of fits well. Since he’s kind of just keeping time, it’s hard to know.

AFTER: It’s interesting, because it’s not that it sounds dated, because the sounds are not dated, but the approach is very vampy. Vamping can work-these are good soloists-but it’s the Coltrane-Elvin approach. That’s a delicate spot to go, because it so automatically reminds you of something else that it’s hard to put your own signature on it.

7. Cédric Hanriot

“Louisiana” (from French Stories, Plus Loin/Harmonia Mundi). Hanriot, piano, keyboards, programming; John Patitucci, bass; Terri Lyne Carrington, drums; Benjamin Powell, violin; Patrick Owen, cello. Recorded in 2011.

BEFORE: It sounds a little bit like Mike Clark. The snare sounds a lot like Mike Clark, with a lot of ghost notes.

AFTER: Terri Lyne is another one. She’s kind of chameleon-like sometimes. I’ve played with Patitucci so much, and I know his playing, but here it reminded me of the Mike Clark-Paul Jackson vibe. It’s not a bad thing to sound like.

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Originally Published