David Sanchez, aged 36, Puerto Rican and duly associated with Latin music, is an outstanding jazz tenor saxophonist with the great virtues of players active twenty years before he was even born. Some years ago Humphrey Lyttelton reported one of the musical experiences of his even then long life as having recently heard Sanchez jam with the prodigious Lew Tabackin, and to be on a par with Tabackin is already to be astoundingly accomplished. The present set, protected against burning with its own playing software -- at least the review copy is -- presents a variety of combinations of Sanchez and the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, sometimes with part of his current quintet, sometimes all of them. The character of the music depends somewhat on who the composer is and precisely which forces are added to these two constants. Such sizeable claims have been made in advertising the achievement, it's hard to avoid an excessive degree of negativing in a review. In one perspective there is Sanchez, say, or Tabackin, and the depth and height either at his best attains. On the other there are the instrumental forces for which an orchestral repertoire exists: indicated by such names as Villa-Lobos, or other composers of Iberian or Iberian-American culture inspired by the "Spanish" music of Debussy and French Impressionism.
Combining the two, especially with a jazz rhythm section, risks a mixture involving at least a few partly mutually neutralising elements, rather than a summit of synthesis. There's a bit of that, but elsewhere the orchestra doesn't get that much of its own sort to do.
The unproblematic title track has simply Sanchez and the orchestra, Alberto Ginastera's "Panambi" as a concerted work for saxophone and orchestra within the European concert tradition. In England John Harle might take this up. It's precisely his sort of classical thing, but even he would have trouble matching Sanchez.
The album's publicity announces "Saxophonist David Sanchez Explores Latin Classical Masterworks on Coral from Columbia..." A lot depends on what you mean by Masterworks. The plural might signify as few as two? I'd speculate about maybe "Panambi", but doubts arise over the other works here: by Antonio Carlos Jobim (2 items), Heitor Villa-Lobos (1), Carlos Franzetti (1), the conductor here; not to mention his longtime associate Sanchez (also 2 -- the paperwork refers to a bonus track, given no number -- I can't find it on the review CD).
Jobim's "Eu Sei Que Vou Te Amar" has Sanchez and his own pianist, bassist, drummer and percussionist. The one worth mentioning for having solo opportunities is Edsel Gomez (piano). The supposed masterworks being described as Iberian-American influenced by French Impressionism, the very Debussian opening might be predictable. It's very impressive, like the tenor solo which follows after a peculiarly zigzaggy transition through a sequence of ensemble chords. There's an extent of harmonic breadth in that passage which nobody before the 20th century ventured, and an impression of calculation forestalls decline into the sentimentalism of film music. Unfortunately there is a concerted passage without Sanchez which does blunder into that territory. The problem is lack of tension, and it takes the second title "Matita Pere" (also Jobim) disappointingly into rather the "light classical" bag too. Ginastera's "Vidala" is an improvement, Miguel Zenon joining in and the two saxophones doubling with the strings. It's a valuable experiment, but not one to be realised in its fullness within the sort of career trajectory projected from Sanchez's course of recordings. A measure of wishful thinking adds one triumph to another, each different album another stop on the gradus ad paranassum.
Perhaps Columbia are remembering their hugest jazz biggie, Miles Davis? Sanchez hasn't struck me as being quite so driven as Davis, or so deeply experienced, and so forth. It would be more than enough his being the tenorist he is, and as variously gifted and interesting, without encumbering him with claims in relation to a situation more likely to demonstrate consistency than advance. It certainly does in the level of his playing, though the effect of the strings on the title track makes "Coral" seem slightly dragged out. "Panambi" could win pardon for a multitude of sins, but on Sanchez's own "The Elements II" there is string writing not that remote from the best 'strings' sound a synthesiser could produce (where it wasn't anywhere needed). Zenon has a good alto solo, but there's pretty well nothing to the arrangement that couldn't have been accomplished with a flute and a couple of extra horns.
"Vexilla Regis" reminds me a bit of Stan Getz's Focus set, and there's a lot of Getz in Sanchez's playing, down to the vibrato on one sustained note earlier on. Franzetti's piece this is, with more synthesizer strings toward the conclusion.
The eighth track is "Cancion del Canaveral", the second Sanchez composition, a quintet item on which the strings do little more than fill out the rhythm section music in the opening tout ensemble. Zenon opens with a solo which is better when he doesn't essay the sometimes pointy and soon to be dated trendy rabblerousing edge to his tone. Sanchez is again in the Getz bag, as if buried recollections of that master were surfacing, though the tone has a hard surface probably handy when got agitated after a diffusedly quiet start to his solo. I half-expected the Prague orchestra to applaud at the end. Maybe they'd gone home, having had very little to do on either Sanchez title. Hence perhaps the apparent omission of the "bonus" track?
The notes report that David Sanchez has said, "I hear music in a different way" after this date. I hope that didn't cause the meander here and there about his playing, mostly on the last title track. I cite a suspicion about one problem of an orchestration which rings most notes in a performance's harmonies. Having sounded most of the notes on which a soloist will have to call, it can give an effect of predictability or mere echoing to a solo, an impression of diminished initiative.
But this is really not a bad CD, all in all.