Review by Brad Walseth
Puerto Rican-born David Sanchez's "Cultural Survival" moves like a shimmering arc across the sky, pulling together African, Caribbean and modern jazz motifs into a hypnotic force of nature and human experience. Inspired by current events and the state of humanity and influenced by world beats yet with an urban pulse, this recording is a fascinating and compelling release that is almost symphonic in its breadth and depth.
Sanchez's tenor sax is both strong and lovely at times and does often veer into Coltrane forays at times, something he is oft criticized for (but who better to emulate?). As someone who has been touted as the next great tenor player of the new generation, the Grammy-award winning young artist has garnered his share of detractors, which has me wondering if someone else had recorded this album, whether we would be discussing best of the year honors. I know it will be in my discussion come yearend.
Here Sanchez is joined by one of my favorite young up-and-coming guitarists, Lage Lund, who adds considerable texture as well as energy to the mostly pianoless recording. Ranging from African-styled jangling to straight ahead jazz to backwards effects, Lund contributes mightily to the overall sound, and his solos are exceptional. Danilo Perez adds piano on two tunes: "Manto Azul" and (especially) the churning title track. Bassist Ben Street and drummers Henry Cole and Adam Cruz provide effervescent propulsion, while percussionist extraordinaire Pernell Saturnino also guests on two tracks. Bassist Hans Glawischnig and keyboardist Robert Rodriguez also appear on the closing track (the incredible over-20-minute "La Leyenda del Canaveral").
Throughout, the tracks almost seem to be part of one overarching idea, with a theme of the universal human condition as constant. Although some pieces, like the Latin rhythmically challenging "Adoracion," have enough of a different feel to stand out, it may be the overall sound that many will find attractive. Despite the despair behind the compositions, they are neither dour, nor sentimental, but rather exciting, intelligent and often rapturous music.
Sanchez's take on "Monk's Mood" won't please purists, and is a bit anomalous to the rest of the album, but it is voluptuous fun nonetheless, while "Coast to Coast" and "Ay Bendito" feature superb group interaction. "The Forgotten Ones" is dedicated to the residents of New Orleans, but is neither bitter nor angry, falling more into a state of wistful sadness.
The extraordinary opus "La Leyenda del Canaveral," written in response to a poem Sanchez's sister wrote about sugar cane workers, ends the album and moves through the sounds of African field hands singing on to modern jazz and many stages between. Alternately thoughtful and soaring, this rich composition provides a fitting exit for a stimulating and satisfying release.