Float the Edge
You can often judge musicians by the company they keep. Float the Edge, the latest album from pianist-composer Angelica Sanchez, features her alongside two of the most sought-after rhythm-section musicians on the scene: veteran bassist Michael Formanek and rising-star Tyshawn Sorey, both acclaimed leader-composers in their own right. To be released via Clean Feed Records on March 25, 2017, Float the Edge sees this earthy, expansive trio perform Sanchez’s compositions, as well as several free improvisations. “A lot of what we do as a trio – and what each of us does living a life in this music – is take things to the edge, taking the risk to jump off without really knowing where you’re going to land,” the pianist says. “When it works, you feel like you’re floating – it’s beautiful.” Even the pieces she composed for the album were relatively spare on the page, giving the players room to imagine the music on the fly. “I didn’t want to have too much information in the tunes – I just wanted to set a mood that would inspire improvisation,” Sanchez explains. “Mike and Tyshawn are players who naturally develop the music on the spot, and I always have faith that they’ll play something better than I could’ve imagined. Also, unlike with a lot of piano trios, it isn’t just the piano leading the way all the time. I know I can play anything and they’ll run with the music, shape it. This album is really about going on a journey – for us and for the listener.”
Sanchez’s previous Clean Feed release, Twine Forest, presented the pianist in a duo with iconic trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith. Dusted magazine, reviewing this 2014 album, said: “Wadada Leo Smith and the superb pianist Angelica Sanchez produce a recital whose main ingredients are touch, feel, resonance and a real emphasis on the presence of a note, a chord. Smith’s trumpet playing is widely celebrated for possessing these virtues, but Sanchez convinces throughout with her musicality, restraint and creativity.” At 7:30 p.m. on March 25, she will celebrate the release of Float the Edge in New York City with a return performance in the Sound It Out series at Greenwich House Music School; the night’s double-bill will showcase Sanchez twice: first in the duo alongside Smith and then in the trio with Formanek and Sorey, playing music from the new album.
Sanchez and company recorded Float the Edge at Systems Two in Brooklyn, with the pianist producing the album, Joe Marciano engineering and Max Ross handling the mixing and mastering. About her trio partners, Sanchez says: “Being such a great composer, arranger and bandleader himself, Mike Formanek has huge ears – he’s attuned to everything that’s happening. And as a bassist, Mike has got the ‘boom boom,’ this big, soulful sound, with a natural sense of swing. He has played with the elders from the classic post-bebop tradition, like Freddie Hubbard, and that gives the music a foundation you can feel. But he’s also connected to the best contemporary players across the generations, so he’s always looking ahead. Tyshawn is a great musician, so intuitive and one of the most natural improvisers I’ve ever heard. He can play anything on the drums, really orchestrating and shaping the music.”
The tracks on Float the Edge reference fiction and folklore, nature and the world around and in us. Opener “Shapishico,” marked by rhythmic fluidity and a quicksilver solo by Sanchez, refers to a mythical creature also known as Chullachaqui, a shapeshifting guardian of the Amazon forests of Peru and Brazil that can take the form of an animal or a man. Starting with an extended, hook-filled Formanek solo, “SOWF (Substance of We Feeling)” references Dora Lessing’s novel Shikasta and its term for a quality of empathy that separated men from animals in a golden age. The hushed free improvisation “Hypnagogia,” which begins with a Sorey/Formanek soundscape, takes its title from the phenomenon of lucid dreaming, with Sanchez getting some of her musical ideas when experiencing this threshold of consciousness between sleep and wakefulness. “Float the Edge” and “The Traveler” are two more free improvisations, raucous and muscular by turns. “Pyramid” features Formanek arco as Sanchez unspools pearls of sound from the keyboard. The title of “What the Birds Tell Me” comes from all the avian music Sanchez hears in her backyard, with the balladic melody reflecting its inspiration. Complete with a Sorey drum solo, the mysterious, 10-and-a-half-minute “Black Flutter” ends the album on a high.
Reflecting on the creation of Float the Edge, Sanchez says: “Making a record can be bittersweet for me – it’s just a snapshot of one day. This trio, like most every group I have, sounds different on different days. But one thing does stay the same: I always have a blast with this band. We have fun with each other, and there isn’t a lot of talking about the music – we just play, telling our stories that way. This album is a collection of musical stories we were spinning in the moment, and the magic of recording means we can share them with listeners over and over, all over the world. That makes me happy.”
The New York Times has described Angelica Sanchez as pursuing “free jazz that has structure, if that isn’t too much of a contradiction; it has a loose, cantankerous energy, but it’s given shape by some smart writing.” The pianist-composer moved to New York from her native Arizona in 1994. In her years on the East Coast, she has played with such figures as Paul Motian, Wadada Leo Smith, Richard Davis, Tim Berne and Mark Dresser, as well as Ben Monder, Rob Mazurek, Chris Lightcap, Susie Ibarra, Mario Pavone, Chad Taylor, Matt Bauder and Vincent Chancey. Sanchez leads several groups, including her recently formed Nonet, which includes Thomas Heberer (trumpet), Kirk Knuffke (cornet), Chris Speed (tenor saxophone), Michaël Attias (alto sax), Ben Goldberg (clarinets), Omar Tamez (guitar), John Hébert (double-bass) and Sam Ospovat (drums).
New York City Jazz Record chose the Angelica Sanchez Quintet album Wires & Moss (Clean Feed) – featuring guitarist Marc Ducret, saxophonist Tony Malaby, bassist Drew Gress and drummer Tom Rainey – as one of best releases of 2012, just as it did the band’s previous album, Life Between (Clean Feed), in 2009. Sanchez’s album A Little House (Clean Feed) – which presented pieces for both grand piano and toy piano – was showcased on NPR in 2011. Her 2003 quartet disc Mirror Me (Omnitone) – with Malaby, Formanek and Rainey – was praised by All Music Guide for its “adventurous spirit,” the review adding that her “compelling music always offers ‘the sound of surprise,’ as Whitney Balliett so eloquently described the most memorable jazz.”
Sanchez has also figured in two striking cooperative trios. The trio with Tony Malaby and Tom Rainey recorded the two volumes of Alive in Brooklyn in 2004, with Sanchez playing buzzing, funky Wurlitzer electric piano. All Music Guide called the albums “exuberant and enthralling.” She also recorded two ballad-oriented albums as the September Trio with saxophonist Ellery Eskelin and drummer-composer Harris Eisenstadt. Praising that trio’s work, DownBeat singled out the pianist, saying that “Sanchez’s harmonic acuity avoids cliché.” In addition to her duo with Wadada Leo Smith that released Twine Forest in 2014, Sanchez has also performed and recorded as a duo with guitarist Omar Tamez, releasing the albums Días de Sol and Floresta (both on Nonjazz Records).
Sanchez was awarded the French/American Chamber Music America Grant in 2008, as well as the Rockefeller Brothers Pocantico Center Artist Residency in 2011.
All compositions by Angelica Sanchez/ Sancha Music (Sesac) except for Float The Edge, Hypnagogia and The Traveler by Angelica Sanchez/Sancha Music (Sesac), Michael Formanek/Formtone Music (BMI), and Tyshawn Sorey
Recorded at Systems Two Studios on July 12, 2016 | Engineer Joe Marciano, assistant engineer Max Ross | Mixed by Joe Marciano | Mastered by Max Ross
Produced by Angelica Sanchez | Executive prodution by Pedro Costa for Trem Azul | Design by Travassos | Artwork by Felicia van Bork, How to Camp in Thin Air, 2011, monotype collage, 11×11 in © 2011, 2017 Felicia van Bork, all rights reserved | Photo by Karen A. Wolf