Gig review: Antonio Sanchez, Edinburgh

The vagaries of airport baggage handlers and onstage sound systems conspired to subvert this Edinburgh debut for the acclaimed New York drummer‘s powerful Migration electro-acoustic band, presenting his hour-long Meridian suite.

Antonio Sanchez brought his Meridian suite to Edinburgh
Antonio Sanchez brought his Meridian suite to Edinburgh

Antonio Sanchez - Festival Theatre Studio, Edinburgh

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Sanchez, renowned for his work with Pat Metheny, among others, and for his percussive score for the Oscar-winning film Birdman, took the stage in the proverbial clothes he stood up in, as did his colleagues, saxophonist Seamus Blake, pianist John Escreet and bassist Matt Brewer, having arrived from France minus their luggage, plus some of Sanchez’s cymbals.

Regardless, they launched into what proved to be an often intense, occasionally ponderous, continuous sweep of music, constantly underpinned by Sanchez’s alert, sometimes vehemently robust drumming, with all three other members switching instruments – Brewer between acoustic and electric basses, Escreet doubling on grand piano and Fender Rhodes, and Blake between tenor sax and EWI wind synth.

The stated aim of Sanchez’s suite is to “create imaginary lines in which motifs, emotions, ideas and melodies flow” in the manner of geographic meridians, and one is tempted to says that as a musical voyage, it navigated occasional calms but also some spectacularly stormy passages, not least when Sanchez cut loose on drums or Blake let loose a Coltrane-like torrential outpouring on tenor sax.

A muscular and inventive player, Blake stated flowing or angular motifs with big-toned authority, elsewhere coaxing melancholy voicings, sci-fi whines and subterranean echoes from the wind synth over Brewer’s deftly muttering bass and Sanchez’s explosive cross-currents or chittering cymbal paths.

Escreet ranged fluidly about the grand piano keyboard and generated some Weather-Report-ish eruptions on the Fender Rhodes, although it could be hard to relax into the music at times, as the players didn’t always seem at ease, early on signalling concerns at their monitor levels while later glitches saw Blake haring off the stage, apparently to seek repairs to a malfunctioning laptop. Various extraneous hums and buzzes continued to hang about the performance. Meridian is something I’d like to hear again, without such distractions.

They won a mighty reception, however, not least for their encore, Sanchez’s Nighttime Story, a lovely ballad to which Blake gave eloquent voice over Brewer’s woody bass deliberations before concluding with a breathy susurrus, in limpid contrast to the thunder of some of the previous piece.