Photo: Justin Bettman

Antonio Sanchez: Bad Hombre

Influenced by his contribution to the Birdman soundtrack and deep explorations in the digital realm, Antonio Sanchez's Bad Hombre is a beautifully crafted solo release.

Antonio Sanchez
Bad Hombre

For the past few years percussionist Antonio Sanchez has experimented with bigger visions. Following the massive success of his propulsive and maddening drum set contributions to the Birdman soundtrack, he’s been able to pursue more ambitious projects of his volition. With a steep pedigree in jazz, notably his work with greats Pat Metheny, Chick Corea, and Gary Burton, Sanchez is no stranger to improvisation and developing ideas from abstract material. His previous release,
The Meridian Suite from 2015, was an extended work, over an hour in length, intended to be heard in its entirety from beginning to end. All of this taken into account, in addition to his constant gigging and sideman work in the studio, it’s impossible to deny Sanchez’s musical scope is widening far beyond setting grooves.

His latest release,
Bad Hombre, signals his new venture into electronic experimentation. Three events in Sanchez’s life inspired the recording, the first naturally being the experience writing for Birdman. In the album’s liner notes he relates how working with filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu (specifically, seeing how the drums translate to the events on screen) spurred a curiosity over what other avenues he could explore within the scope of percussion. More practically, buying a house gave Sanchez the opportunity to build a home studio, opening a resource for endless explorations without having to shell out cash for hours and hours of studio time. Finally, as with many artists, we’ll see for years to come, the xenophobic rhetoric from Donald Trump during the 2016 election served as a catalyst for anger and resentment (Sanchez was born in Mexico and became a naturalized citizen in part to vote in this past election).

All of this said, this isn’t a political record, just as it isn’t a jazz record. Any rage over the current political landscape was used to fuel the record’s energy, not serve as an overarching message. Likewise, Sanchez’s background in jazz undoubtedly infuses
Bad Hombre with a sense of vitality and improvisational drive, but the album is genuinely a composed exploration between drums and electronics. The pensive curiosity of “Fire Trail” and the staggering chaos of the title track give insight into the album’s aesthetic. It’s a record of unification between the endless digital landscape of computer-generated material with the primal propulsion of analog drums, one that still sounds focused for all its ambition.

Solo records, those entirely written and produced by one individual, tend to risk becoming one track, self-indulgent affairs. Having an entire sonic world at one’s fingertips can be a dangerous proposition, and while the composer/performer/producer as authoritarian role indeed ensures a singular vision, there’s no guarantee that it won’t cloud or distort along the way. Unencumbered by ego, Sanchez focuses
Bad Hombre entirely on the music, not a sense of musical personality. Having so much time available to experiment with his home studio allowed Sanchez to develop tasteful song structures as much as intriguing textures.

The frenzy and colors of “BBO” are reminiscent of a Mars Volta freakout, yet everything feels placed and purposeful. “Momentum” balances frenzied syncopation with a sense of openness and space, while the slow ebb and flow of “The Crossing” is an exercise in restraint and groove. Influenced by electronically gifted artists like Björk and Boards of Canada, Sanchez clearly understands the risk and benefits of falling down the rabbit hole of digital production. Contrasting with the more frenzied tracks, the catharsis of “Distant Glow” and “Home” demonstrate a different take on this sonic spectrum.

Bad Hombre is an excellent example of a jazz musician stretching beyond the confines of the genre into something entirely new. It’s musically involved, yet wholly accessible to anyone craving new sounds and expressions. Sanchez does what all artists, regardless of genre or medium, aspire to do: He expertly uses the tools at his command to communicate, sending a complex yet clear message.

RATING 9 / 10