Angelica Sanchez Trio: Sparkle Beings album review — an excellent left-of-centre set

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The “Sparkle Beings” of the album’s title are friends, colleagues and historical figures who stimulate the mind and help the imagination fly. For pianist Angelica Sanchez, an angular rhythmic strand stretching from Duke Ellington to Cecil Taylor figures prominently; both pianist/composers are name-checked here along with Mary Lou Williams, whose “A Fungus Amungus” opens this excellent left-of-centre set.

Michael Formanek and Billy Hart are the session’s inspirational bassist and drummer, but it is the pianist herself who is this album’s commanding presence. Here, she pulls an array of influences into a coherent and personal voice and emphasises the continuity within; the unjustly neglected Williams inspired and collaborated with both Ellington and Taylor. Sanchez builds on the style with a strong two-handed technique and a thrilling stitch of offbeat stabs, expressionist jangles and fast, edge-of-harmony runs.

Three through-improvised pieces lay bare the trio at work. “Generational Bonds”, the album’s second track, begins with sparsely scattered piano and floaty Formanek double bass. Hart adds a light pulse of brushstroke drums and, step-by step, the 11-minute track builds to a high. In contrast, the melodic wisps of “Phantasmic Friend” maintain their pensive mood at ballad tempo almost to the end and the long title track holds rhythmic tension from first splashed cymbal to last hi-hat crash.

The album begins with the spidery, percussive lines of “A Fungus Amungus”. The trio capture the free-form flow of the original but, with Hart ghosting the melody on mallets, ups the ante from the start. Later, Sanchez spaciously reconfigures Cecil Taylor’s “With (Exit)” and brings out the elegant calm of Mario Ruiz Armengol’s etude “Preludio a un Preludio” — Ellington nicknamed the Mexican composer “Mr Harmony”.

The set ends with the Sanchez-composed interlude “Before Sleep” twinned with Ellington’s “The Sleeping Lady and the Giant that Watches Over Her”, from The Latin American Suite. Setting off at speed, the track changes rhythm and mood before fading slowly over a firmly rocking pulse.

★★★★☆

Sparkle Beings’ is released by Sunnyside

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