by Nick Stubblefield
Within moments of the start of Antonio Sanchez's set at SubCulture last Friday, it was not only clear that his drum chops reign supreme, but that he is a commanding, dominating force to be reckoned with. Rarely have I seen a performer with such precise focus and control over his band and instrument.
The program consisted solely of Sanchez's "Meridian Suite," lasting about an hour and performed without pause. Right from the first tune, "Grids and Patterns," the group established a hypnotic atmosphere in which the musical format was inverted: the band played a repetitive figure, freeing Sanchez to perform a variety of highly syncopated, sparkling drum fills that ruled the stage and seized the focus.
The opener melted easily into the slow, throbbing "Imaginary Lines." Singer Thana Alexa delivered soothing scat vocals with tasteful restraint, and saxophonist Donny McCaslin shined with soulful riffs, including a lengthy extended solo. Special props to bassist Matt Brewer, who locked down razor tight lines all evening, alternating between electric and upright bass. Sanchez's slow, tasteful drum work proved just as engaging as his more aggressive playing.
"Channels of Energy" was a particular highlight with powerful, but often unpredictable grooves by keyboardist John Escreet, playing both a Steinway grand and a Rhodes piano with some killer fuzzed-out synth.
Antonio Sanchez's compositions defy classification and disintegrate musical boundaries. One moment, you're sure it's avant-garde jazz; the next, you're almost positive you're at a rock show. The brilliance is in just how seamlessly Sanchez is able to incorporate and meld his influences into a cohesive sound. Sanchez treated the drums as much more than just something to keep time -- he played them as a virtuoso would treat any tuned instrument: with deep levels of expression, a constant sense of melody, and an obsessive attention to detail.