When I first heard Angelica Sanchez was releasing a new trio album, I wasn’t sure exactly what kind of grouping we would get. An inveterate experimenter, Sanchez has led a long-time quintet with an unusual sax/guitar/piano lineup, co-led a trio with husband Tony Malaby and Tom Rainey, recorded a solo album featuring toy piano, and also appeared in duets with Wadada Leo Smith and Kris Davis, on the latter’s excellent Duopoly.
On her new trio outing, Sanchez brings in two players she has a long history with, though this is (I believe) the first time they appear on record together: bassist Michael Formanek and drummer Tyshawn Sorey. All three are exceptionally non-idiomatic, their styles revealed through approach and expression than specific motifs, tones, or timbres. As such, Formanek’s playing is in something of a Henry Grimes style, melodic and emotionally rich, accentuated by sudden leaps and lively arco. Sorey emphasizes his cymbal work, creating a metallic thread that’s woven through Formanek and Sanchez’s duelling improvisations. That’s not to imply there’s a clash, but rather to express how their ideas are constantly in response to each other, the collective alive with the thrill of collaboration.
“Shapishico” opens with Formanek on bass, before Sanchez’s walking melody comes in with a slanting counter-rhythm that takes the group straight into a long improvisation. At the center of the album is a trio of songs that provide extensive solo room for each member. On “SOWF (Substance of We Feeling),” Formanek sets the tone with a two-minute solo, in which he previews some of the motifs Sanchez and Sorey will develop throughout the rest of the track. “Hypnagogia” opens with Sorey, on mallets, creating an open rhythm that gives the piece some John Luther Adams-like undertones. Sanchez takes a languid solo to begin “What the Birds Tell Me,” laying out a curious theme that gets picked up by Formanek and Sorey. It’s a relaxed, abstract piece in which the trio plays with silence, crafting a kind of meditation.
The quality of the mix is worth hearing on a great set of speakers. Like a film using deep focus, there are endless details to explore, and the depth captures a richness emanating from, especially, Sanchez’s piano. I was so taken with the sound that I looked up who worked on this, and it was Joe Marciano and Max Ross, who, it turns out, are responsible for some of the best sounding albums of the past decade (and then some). Sanchez’s voice is crisp and her vision feels particularly focused in this trio setting.
Angelica Sanchez, Brandon Ross, and Chad Taylor at Arts for Art 2016 Evolving Fest “Not a Police State/Justice Is Compassion,” January 22, 2016: