Expatriate Canadian Kris Davis is developing her Pyroclastic record label into a stellar chronicle of a contemporary jazz idiom that’s often as distinguished by compositional content as improvisatory flair. The latest enlistee is Angelica Sanchez, a fellow pianist-composer whose intensely lyrical small-group work has been documented over the past two decades. Here Sanchez makes a dramatic leap as a composer, writing for a nine-member ensemble, while drawing inspiration from a nocturnal forest far from her New York City home.
Rather than typical nocturnes, Sanchez’s compositions abound with contrast, from subtle dissonances to complex rhythmic overlays. There is a jagged spikiness to C.B. the Time-Traveler and waves of dissonant polyphony on Land Here, all of it somehow framed in discovery and surprise. Ring Leader moves from a rhythmically even guitar line with sudden brass punctuations to an improvised duet of multiphonic tenor saxophone and drums.
While her fleetly inventive, sometimes multi-directional piano can come to the fore, Sanchez also surrounds herself with musicians whose individual voices go beyond ensemble skills, including saxophonists Michaël Attias and Chris Speed. Two musicians bring particularly unusual instruments to both ensemble and solo roles, Ben Goldberg his contra alto clarinet and Thomas Heberer his quarter tone trumpet.
Occasionally referencing Carla Bley, Sanchez also includes works by two other composers, performing Duke Ellington’s Lady of the Lavender Mist and Chilean composer Armando Carvajal’s Tristeza, a mysterious wandering through the ensemble’s individual voice before an ultimate collective theme statement.