Across the set, the richness of Sanchez’s piano playing and the beauty of her compositions captivated me and I am certainly seeking to seek out her back catalogue and urge you to do the same.

Pyroclastic Records: PR30

Angelica Sanchez: piano; Michaёl Attis, Chris Speed: saxophones; Ben Goldberg: contra alto clarinet; Thomas Herber: quarter tone trumpet; Kenny Warren: cornet; John Hébert: bass; Sam Ospovat: drums; Omar Tamez: guitar

Recorded August 21st- 22nd 2021by Ryan Streber at Oktaven Audio, Mount Vernon, New York.

If, like me, this your first encounter with the staggering genius of Angelic Sanchez, you won’t go far wrong in seeking out this album. Granted her recording, ‘Sparkle Beings’, was listed by the New York Times as one of the best albums of 2022, but there seems to be a marked lack of recording of her compositions and playing. The current album was inspired by her time in a secluded cabin north of New York. She describes the night, in the woods, as a time “…when the coyotes and other animals make more noise in the dark.

I realized that it was only my ears that were activated in those moments. I became fascinated by what I couldn’t see.” Composing for nine musicians gives her the richness of a large ensemble, but also the intimacy of creating opportunities for musicians whose playing she knows well. It also provides a space for her clear and nuanced piano playing to shine, while providing space for each member of the nonet to demonstrate the clarity of their playing.

The centre of the set, both literally and spiritually, is a beautiful version of Ellington’s ‘Lady of the Lavender Mist’, track 5. Here, one of Ellington’s lesser known pieces is given the respect it deserves. Sanchez’s piano lead the piece, echoing the phrasing of Ellington but with a lustre that he would have envied. The musicians build the atmosphere around the melody in ways that make a small ensemble deliver the potency of a big band.

This is no small measure due to Sanchez’s arrangement and her ability to create space between each instrument so that they not only have a clear area in which to produce their sounds but also amplifies and builds the links between them, so that raising and lowering of sound comes in waves that you expect from Ellington’s bands but from a handful of instruments.

Sanchez is at her most intriguing, both in terms of composition and playing, in the more challenging and contemporary pieces. ‘Land Here’, track 6, which follows the Ellington piece has a discerningly simple structure and motif that works through a discordant, counter-pointed progression in ways that are both unsettling and also captivating.

Rather like the best ghost stories, you know that something unexpected is going to happen but are still taken aback when it appears. In addition to her love of Ellington, Sanchez also celebrates the music of Carla Bley, in ‘C.B. the time traveller’, track 2, and, a little more obliquely, ‘Wrong door for rocket fuel’, track 9.

These pieces play with Bley’s approach to composition and, while ‘chronotransduction’ might be mainstream as an approach to writing, creates pieces that are honest and heartfelt homages to a significant figure in jazz. A second cover version in the set is Armando Carvajal’s ‘Tristeza’, track 10, which, in Sanchez’s version, builds from near quiet to intermittent noises from various instruments into a funereal march and extended bass solo.

Like so many of the pieces of the album, the composition has a perfect balance of tension and release. In addition to her homage to other composers, Sanchez also includes a heartfelt and very moving tribute to her father, in ‘Astral light of Alarid’, track 4, which begins with the tonal palette of Ellington at his moodiest and gently segues into a parallel solo between trumpet and piano which, for me, felt like a conversation between father and daughter that was full of joy, disagreements, reconciliation and love.

Across the set, the richness of Sanchez’s piano playing and the beauty of her compositions captivated me and I am certainly seeking to seek out her back catalogue and urge you to do the same.