The Angelica Sanchez Nonet – ‘Nighttime Creatures’
(Pyroclastic Records. Album review by John Ferguson)
A member of Kris Davis’ progressive Pyroclastic Records stable, pianist Angelica Sanchez has gathered together some big hitters on the New York jazz scene, such as Chris Speed (tenor sax, clarinet), Kenny Warren (cornet), Ben Goldberg (contra alto clarinet) and others, to produce this debut release by her Nonet. The Nonet is completed by Michaël Attias (alto sax), John Hébert (bass), Thomas Heberer (quarter-tone trumpet), Sam Ospovat (drums) and Omar Tamez (guitar).
With musical reference points ranging from Carla Bley to Tyshawn Sorey (and a little bit of Duke Ellington along the way), this album is fresh and vibrant, albeit somewhat challenging in its intensity. Sanchez composed much of it whilst secreted away in a cabin in the woods, hence the album title and broader inspiration. With nine Sanchez-penned compositions and two covers (by Ellington and Armando Carvahal), there is a ‘darkness’ inherent in much of the music.
The opening title track sets the scene, with Goldberg’s deep clarinet featuring particularly strongly. Indeed, the low-slung tones of the instrument are a constant source of interest throughout much of the album. Second track C.B. The Time Traveler pays homage to Carla Bley and as on much of the album, it is clear the musicians have been given a great deal of freedom, rather than staying within the confines of a strictly composed structure.
The tempo slows to almost funerial pace by the fourth track Astral Light of Aarid, however following Heberer’s trumpet solo, Sanchez herself lets loose with some frenetic lines during a piano trio section, before the remaining ensemble members re-enter the fray.
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An oasis approximately halfway through the expedition arrives, as a homage of a slightly different kind, when the nonet performs a version of Ellington’s 1947-published Lady of the Lavender Mist. Sanchez, perhaps referencing Claude Bolling’s 1960 solo piano rendition in her own playing, brings the classic up to date, with the musicians exhibiting an authentic period big band sound, perfectly capturing the piece’s melodic charm.
More avant-garde dissonance and free playing resumes on much of the remaining music on the album, albeit as if to show that this group can cut it alongside any more traditional jazz ensemble, the final track Run almost ‘swings’ after 90 seconds in, before some discordant interactions re-establish the contemporary tone to finish off.
The musicianship here is exemplary, though the album may well test listeners with less than a total commitment (and an opportunity) to concentrate. It is perhaps best experienced in ‘bite-sized chunks’ rather than the somewhat lengthy 80 minutes in one session, but the challenge is rewarding nevertheless.
Author John Ferguson co-promotes live music at SoundCellar in Poole (www.soundcellar.org)
‘Nighttime Creatures’ is released on Pyroclastic Records today 27 October 2023 – BANDCAMP