Antonio Sánchez calls his large Yamaha drum set “The Purple Monster.” Isn’t it fitting that a beast of a musician plays a monster of an instrument?
For the past 15 years with Pat Metheny and throughout his own ever-growing body of work, Sánchez has proven himself a wizard of the drum set, a dedicated musician and innovative artist who puts as much hard work into a brushed ballad with Metheny as he does a marathon, drums-only soundtrack (Birdman). While his strengths as a composer can be heard with his group Migration, this 2016 recording with the WDR Big Band, arranged and conducted by Vince Mendoza, provides the widest window yet into Sánchez’s art.
Performing an all-Sánchez repertoire with the Bad Hombre himself on drums, Mendoza and ensemble create an enormous palette for the drummer’s grand songcraft, drawing on his six solo releases. Surprisingly, Sánchez’s music is tailor-made for big band, its angular rhythms and meaty, sometimes frenetic melodies given excellent structure and form by the 23-member unit. Whether it’s the clarity of Mendoza’s writing or Sánchez’s comfort with cutting up musical grids into bite-sized rhythmic nuggets, the album feels so open that you’d almost swear you could get up and walk around within the music. Sánchez is his usual powerhouse self, but the clear-cut borders and hand-in-glove arrangements make even him sound more confident. The monster is busy and the beast is free.