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The Boston Globe

David Sanchez Finds Classical Inspiration; Saxophonist's New CD With Czech Orchestra Widens His Scope

By Bill Beuttler, Globe Correspondent

August 20, 2004
Copyright © 2004 Bell & Howell Information and Learning Company. All rights reserved.

One could say that David Sanchez has a thirst for mastering languages. The saxophonist speaks Spanish and English, having moved from his native Puerto Rico in 1988 to attend Rutgers University on a scholarship. Musically, he's long been fluent in the Latin and jazz idioms, having passed through the bands of Eddie Palmieri and Dizzy Gillespie en route to recording his own Grammy-nominated CDs.

Now, at age 35, Sanchez is having a go at classical music. Tuesday and Wednesday, he will bring a quartet to the Regattabar to celebrate the release this month of "Coral," recorded in Europe last year with conductor Carlos Franzetti and the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra and featuring 20th-century South American composers Antonio Carlos Jobim, Heitor Villa-Lobos, and Alberto Ginastera.

"I wanted to do a project at some point with an orchestra," Sanchez says by phone. "I didn't know it was going to happen this soon. I had an interest in doing something with some kind of hybrid with composers from the Western classical world, or composers who happen to be influenced by the Western classical world. I had been very much inspired by the music and the story of Heitor Villa- Lobos."

"Coral" has a stately calm and maturity not usually associated with someone Sanchez's age. He improvises on his tenor sax over the orchestra's lush strings, supported simultaneously by his sometime sextet, and he contributed a pair of his own compositions as well.

As pretty as "Coral" sounds now, recording it proved challenging. "It was very primitive," recalls Sanchez, who lives in Brooklyn. "You couldn't even overdub in that studio. The technology, unfortunately, is not that great yet in Prague. But the musicians were amazing. We had three days to do this record, including rehearsals."

The Czech musicians found some of the rhythms "a little unusual, especially in the regional pieces," Sanchez says. But that wasn't the only thing the classically trained musicians had to adjust to.

"I had purposely chosen some very short pieces so we could build in other sections that were free and open and could add and mix little inserts into those short pieces," Sanchez says. "Those are the parts where classical musicians sometimes, specifically in the improvised parts, were lost. They were fascinated by it, but at the same time they were like, `Wow, what's going on?' We [also] had to have a translator, because that was another thing - there was a language barrier."

The orchestra won't be joining Sanchez in Cambridge. But with him will be longtime bandmates Edsel Gomez and Adam Cruz, on piano and drums, respectively, with Thomas Bramerie filling in on bass.

Even so, says Sanchez, lessons learned in recording "Coral" will be evident. The band, he says, came away from the recording sessions thinking "more like an arranger, being very sensitive to - and complement - what the other musician is playing. It just influences very much the way we're hearing music as a quartet now."

Sanchez adds that, as an individual, there's no doubt "Coral" has changed the way he approaches music. One example is his growing emphasis on sound over flashy technique.

"The sound is really important," he explains, "and sometimes I wonder, because in general people tend to be impressed with technique. When I say `technique,' I mean velocity and accuracy. The hard part is really to play with beauty."

Sanchez's sound has evolved consistently from studying George Russell's Lydian Chromatic Concept - the conceptual blueprint for so much of jazz improvisation in the 1960s and afterward - with Ted Dunbar at Rutgers to getting his bebop chops together with Gillespie to putting out his half-dozen previous albums for Sony/Columbia.

"It's a gradual thing," Sanchez says. "I listen to recordings from when I used to play with Dizzy, and I laugh."

"I would say Dizzy revealed the secret, the magic touch, to really cross boundaries," says Danilo Perez, who played with Sanchez in Gillespie's band and now divides his time among Wayne Shorter's quartet, his own trio, and teaching at the New England Conservatory.

"With time," Perez says, "we have learned to immerse ourselves more into a sound that could cross boundaries much more organically."

"I learned many, many things" from Gillespie, Sanchez says. "If I were to pick one, it's the way he would embrace other cultures and other styles of playing. He was always curious. He was the man responsible for one of the most important fusions, between Latin American music and jazz. We already know that he was one of the pioneers of bebop.

"But his vision and all his curiosity . . . I think that's the biggest lesson I could ever learn from him."

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