I’m not sure if it is the “Blackstar” effect, but there seems to be more interest in jazz amongst my friends on Facebook. I’m not sure if people are feeling that the classic rock, soul, funk or pop that they grew up with has been exhausted or they are looking for something more challenging. Any road up, I had a mooch around some end of year jazz reviews on t’internet and I’ve bagged myself one of my favourite albums in a long time, jazz or otherwise. I’ve also found some other rich pickings which will no doubt follow on the blog.
“The Meridian Suite” by Antonio Sanchez & Migration is design to be an LP to be enjoyed in one sitting. Sanchez has made a number of albums in the past but this is the one that he considers most closely fulfils his desire to write and perform a complete work. It is a brilliant album which has a jazz base but touches on electronica, Steve Reich-like minimalism, extravagant latin rhythms and the dynamics that made “Blackstar” so refreshing and interesting.
Sanchez is an experienced drummer and percussionist who has worked with such luminaries as Diane Reeves, Avashai Cohen and Gary Burton. His most prominent role has been in Pat Metheny’s band since 2002. His most significant solo work is the short percussive pieces that he provided for the soundtrack of last year’s “Birdman” movie, starring Michael Keaton and directed by Oscar winner and arm folder, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu.
The album opens with “Grids and Patterns” which sets the structure for the album. It has insistent Reich like piano riff by John Escreet which is picked up by the rest of the band and turned into a saxophone melody by Seamus Blake. The rhythm then shifts to something more recognisably latin with a Metheny like melody before heading back to the opening riff. We then build up to a climax with a wild sax solo. The piano riff is revisited consistently through the LP and it is the sequence that is featured at the start of this clip.
The second track “Imaginary Lines” starts at a beautiful sedate pace before the vocals of Thana Alexa join in. We are talking “Hejira” era Joni here, my favourite album.
And here’s the Bowie connection – Thana plays with Donny McCaslin, the sax player on “Blackstar”. The intensity rises and falls with a subtle bass solo leading into a lengthy coda with the band joining in. This really is now in the realm of Radiohead or Bowie, before piano brings back that initial piano riff from the first track. It is both intelligent and heartfelt, a rare combination.
“Channels of Energy” is the fulcrum of the album, mardy with distorted bass and crashing drums. Then a returning theme from the first track, the funky Latin motif.
The short blast of “Magnetic Currents” clears the palate for the final track, “Pathways Of The Mind”. This is the long stretch for home.
This is the 20 minute final track. Starting with a solo saxophone, the band join in building slowly as an ensemble until a drum fill by Sanchez takes us back to an earlier theme. Eventually Rogers lets loose with a wired electric guitar solo and guess where we end back – that piano riff from the opening track.
In the sleeve notes, Sanchez says:
Meridians are imaginary lines flowing through the earth, the sky and our bodies that interact with us in more ways than we cannot perceive.
In this piece I try to portray how these exist and live all around us in more ways that we can perceive.
He’s succeeded in writing themes that move in and out of the music through the course of the LP. It isn’t just single riffs though. Sequences constantly come in and out of focus but with pace and velocity.
Sanchez recommends that this is listened to with the shuffle switched off. It isn’t available on Spotify. If you want this baby you need to shell out for it. You can download it from iTunes here or via the record label here.
If you enjoy “Blackstar” and you can spare an hour to listen to this, I implore you, please do so. This is probably the album I’ve listened most to 2016. It is that good. And still Bowie is taking me into new places. It is what I posted in tribute to him back in January and it still continues. This is music to enjoy, love and admire. That’s a combination that doesn’t come along very often.
There’s more to come though…….