Thursday, June 12, 2008

Why "Cultural Survival" is Great When it's 99 Degrees Out

David Sanchez, one of a crop of (relatively, in his case) young jazz players who show a major latin influence, has released a number of good albums since his debut album, "Sketches of Dreams," in 1994. "Cultural Survival" is no exception, the compositions are solid, the playing is solid (and includes some good work from major people, like Lage Lund's guitar playing and Danilo Perez' occasional solos as a guest on piano), and the rhythm section (Ben Street on bass, and either Henry Cole or Adam Cruz on drums) is solid. But that's the problem: the album is all surface, without any emotion. It's a solid set of songs, but it comes off as more than a little bit cold and robotic; the majority of tracks sound like jazz modernism by numbers.

The biggest tell of this can be found in listening to Lage Lund, who, here at least, sounds like Pat Metheny's long lost twin brother. Listen to his voicings on "Ay Bendito," for example, and then listen to Metheny's on, say, Micheal Brecker's "Tales From the Hudson." The saxophone-guitar interplay (and occasional unison lines) also belongs on one of the many Metheny-Brecker collaborations. The compositions suffer from the same problem; solid, yes, but frozen cold. The only emotion in any of these compositions comes off as contrived, and many of the tracks have a tendency to bleed together. It's hard to tell where the aforementioned "Ay Bendito" ends and the title track begins even though Danilo Perez plays on the latter.

Additionally, a lot of tracks suffer from their length. Instead of being able to hold one's attention for long periods of time, as the best jazz musicians can (Dave Douglas could play a twenty minute trumpet solo without getting boring), Sanchez' tracks and solos seem to go on forever, with one notable exception. The closing track, "Le Leyenda Del Canaveral," which is also the longest song on the album at 20 minutes and thirty three seconds, moves through different sections and manages to maintain interest over a long period of time due to an inspired solo by Sanchez and Lund's best solo on the record by far. It's the only track where things heat up, and it almost makes the album worth a listen. That said, the rest is the equivalent of jazz air-conditioning; nice and cool, but probably bad for the environment. I'm sure a lot of young musicians will disagree with my thoughts on this album, and that many of them will wind up transcribing Sanchez' and Lund's solos because there is a lot of interesting, "modern" stuff going on. That said though, what's the point of modernism for modernism's sake?

Next time I'll have a review of an album that manages to be "modern," "innovative" and absolutely burnin' at the same time: Dave Douglas' new "Moonshine."

1 comment:

Tim Niland said...

I agree about the Perez album, it is played very well, the musicians are obviously quite talented, but there is an emotional disconnect that seems to take place. It's interesting, because a friend of mine is a musician, and he adores this record, but as a mere "listener" is just doesn't do it for me. Maybe if I had a deeper understanding of the "nuts and bolts" of music I would appreciate this a little more.