Like his music, David Sánchez operates in many places at once. The tenor saxophonist, who returns frequently to his native Puerto Rico, is speaking to JazzTimes on the phone from his home in Atlanta, but he’s just returned from a three-week residency in Colombia and is preparing to fly to the Dominican Republic. Those flight paths are far from arbitrary. Every place he goes, Sánchez seeks out the local African diasporic community—the equivalent of Puerto Rico’s Loíza, which has the island’s highest concentration of Afro-Puerto Ricans. In Colombia, that was Palenque, a village just outside Cartagena well-known for its status as the first free African community in the Americas, established by enslaved peoples who had escaped from the nearby port city in 1691.
“Every time I travel to places like that, I see and hear these parallels,” Sánchez explains. “If I close my eyes … here I am in Palenque and I’m thinking, am I in Haiti? No, I’m in Palenque. That’s how the idea started—like, ‘Wow, sometimes we’re far away from each other and yet so close.’”