This review appears in the March 2013 issue of The New York City Jazz Record.
Antonio Sanchez, Pat Metheny’s drummer of choice, is steadily building his presence as a leader, and up to now he’s made clear his taste for two-saxophone lineups with no chordal instrument. His 2007 debut Migration featured tenors Chris Potter and David Sanchez (with guests Metheny and Chick Corea); his two-disc follow-up Live In New York (2010) paired Sanchez with altoist Miguel Zenón. On New Life, the roster shifts to Donny McCaslin on tenor and David Binney on alto. All of the above are formidable leaders in their own right.
Part of what makes New Life new is the inclusion of a pianist, the budding master John Escreet, who plays on all eight tracks of an all-original program. The harmony flows and shifts and expands, whether it’s the pastoral waltz feel of “Nighttime Story” (with a deft McCaslin quote of “Blues on the Corner”), the churning 7/4 minor-modal flavor of the opening “Uprisings and Revolutions,” or the more elusive Rhodes sonority of “Minotauro” and “The Real McDaddy.” Singing melodies, big statements, deceptive endings, an urge toward more development and variation: this is Sanchez’s writing voice, buoyed in every way by his approach as a drummer, complex and yet flawlessly in-the-pocket.
“Medusa” and “Family Ties” stand out as widely contrasting and beautifully played. “Air,” a dark and mystical ballad with soprano sax (though no soprano credit appears on the sleeve), is one of Escreet’s key moments — not just his rubato introduction but his dramatic impact with the sparest and most ambiguous whole-note chords.
Sanchez is after something altogether different with the title track, “New Life,” a 14-minute opus with marked emphasis on the layered wordless vocals of Thana Alexa (Sanchez’s fiancée). Sanchez’s experience in the Pat Metheny Group, widely known for its wordless vocal textures and soaring sonic expanses, has to be relevant here, but Sanchez is fresh and not imitative in his approach. Even if the result has its indulgent side, it still showcases the band’s emotional power and unified purpose.