It has been nearly a decade since the Puerto Rican saxophonist David Sanchez last performed on a New York stage or released an album. When I heard that he was making a rare appearance in New York to celebrate the release of his latest album, CARIB (Ropeadope/Stretch Music), I immediately headed to The Jazz Standard and I was not disappointed.
Essentially, CARIBis a continuation of the “river” that began with Sanchez’s debut album, The Departure (1994) and Melaza (2000), where he drew heavily from Puerto Rican Bomba and Plena. CARIB draws inspiration from the music and rhythms of Puerto Rico and Haiti, who, according to Sanchez, share striking similarities. Also, it pays tribute to the Afro-descendant communities that shaped Sanchez’s music and his father, Dimas, and wife, Karla, who recently transitioned. She insisted that Sanchez visit Haiti and experience the music and culture first-hand. “I feel like this recording wouldn’t have been possible without her wisdom, sensibility, and love,” wrote David in the album’s liner notes.
At The Jazz Standard, Sanchez shared the stage with pianist Ed Simon (sitting in for Luis Perdomo), guitarist Lage Lund, bassist Ricky Rodriquez, drummer Obed Calvaire, Puerto Rican drummer Jhan Lee Aponte, and the Haitian percussionist Markus Schwartz, all masterful artists in their own right and who executed Sanchez’s vision faithfully and beautifully.
Sanchez is known for his muscular sound, but on this evening, his sound was more paced, joyful, and measured, sweet at times, sad. Tunes such as Canto and Fernando’s Theme wrenched the heart, while Madrigal and Land of the Hills were more festive and celebratory.
Overall, the performance was impressive, but for Sanchez, it must have been a triumph to return to the city where he once lived, worked, and earned his bones. On a larger scale, the performance (and the album) demonstrate triumph over loss and the courage to press on and evolve as an artist despite the circumstances. Between sets, I spoke with Sanchez briefly. During our conversation, we touched on the death of his father and wife, and he said, “You just have to keep going.”
CARIB is the first in a series of recordings that explores and pays homage to Afro-descendant musical traditions throughout the Americas. If Carib indicates what’s to come, listeners are in for a treat. CARIB is available on all digital platforms.