Review: Antonio Sanchez Quartet at Musicians Institute, March 27.


Ruth Price continues to take smart chances with the Jazz Bakery's "Movable Feast" series while she looks for a new permanent home for the Bakery.

For this gig, Chance 1 was trying out the Muscians Institute's 500-seat concert room, not known to the general public as a regular destination. Result: The Hollywood location, though on a side street (quite close to Catalina's), is findable; there's medium-priced parking nearby; the modern, semicircle-seated venue has good sight lines, augmented by big video screens on each side of the stage; the sound is crisp, though marred in the quieter passages by the whine of the air conditioner, which wasn't necessary anyway. No food or drinks, but plenty of restaurants in walking range; we went to the airy Café des Artistes.

Chance 2 was inaugurating the theater as a Feast venue with the relatively unknown quartet of Antonio Sanchez, whose instrument (drums) and musical direction (acoustic jazz) would gain little automatic linkage with the more fusion- and metal-oriented Musicians Institute, founded in 1977 as the Guitar Institute of Technology. It worked out fine.

The quartet struck a nice balance of heart and intellect. The handsome Sanchez made for a smoldering presence, relaxed behind his kit but whisking his sticks around the drums in a continuous roll, not so much keeping time as breezing the music forward. The method was similar to Elvin Jones', but with more of a Latin influence; if Sanchez had racked up a few timbales and cowbells instead of toms and cymbals, he would have sounded like a salsero.

Bass baldie Scott Colley, too, staked out nontraditional territory with decisively placed low thumps and high flurries, often emphasizing the off-beat. No walking from this dude.

The sax pairing at the left made a visual impression: compact Dave Binney on alto interlocking with bespectacled beanpole undergraduate Donny McCaslin on tenor. Both had full, rounded tones and could bend real nice. Binney's solos hit with more bluesiness and rhythmic pugnacity; McCaslin's ran to lengthier, more fluid phrasing. Sometimes they'd play extended fast unisons that you'd hardly believe they could execute so precisely; sometimes they'd peck away at funky harmonies that pushed thrillingly against the rhythmic grain. It was kind of like Gerry Mulligan meets Average White Band, but very Now.

The performance comprised three long tunes. For the middle one, "81st Street" (where Sanchez's girlfriend lives, he said), Sanchez pulled out the fuzzy mallets and slowed things down to the point of microscopy. Spaces opened up; meditation began. It was a great idea and a great challenge, but it went on too long. We are Americans.

Overall, the quartet showed originality and staggering skill. The good-sized crowd had fun and left happy. But for all the smoldering, the four onstage never caught fire, probably didn't mean to. Such is the temperature of our time. And it was a little cold in there.

The Jazz Bakery's next Movable Feast is at this very same venue on Wednesday, April 7, with the fine quintet of Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stanko.