Marta Sanchez

SAAM (Spanish American Art Museum)

A fine pianist who is a particularly inventive arranger-composer, Marta Sanchez has led a quintet since 2015, one that has recorded four albums so far. A constant has been Roman Filiú who played alto on the other quintet recordings but for this project switches to tenor. Altoist Alex LoRe is a major asset, often sounding quite relaxed and laid-back even while improvising over the most dissonant backgrounds.

The opener, “The Unconquered Vulnerable Areas,” has a soothing theme before it builds in suspense and tension. LoRe shows that he can hit high notes with ease while Filiú has a stormy and stirring tradeoff with Sanchez.

“Dear Worthiness” is a thoughtful and dark piece about self-doubt that includes a fluent alto solo and some pretty expressive playing by the leader.

“SAAM” is filled with dissonance and the assertive drums of Allan Mednard, while the harmonized horns on the ballad “The Eternal Stillness” are memorable, as is arguably the best piano playing of the set.

“Marivi” was written as a message to Sanchez’s mother, whom she was not able to visit in Spain during her last days because of COVID-19 travel restrictions. The emotional piece features singer Camila Meza and trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire as guests.

Of Sanchez’s other originals, “If You Could Create It” is relatively playful yet purposeful, Filiú and bassist Rashaan Carter star on a somber “The Hard Balance,” “December 11th” has a tango feel and a sparkling piano solo, and the closer “When Dreaming Is The Only” is highlighted by the interplay of the saxophonists.

It is a bit surprising that Sanchez’s music has not been featured with a big band, for her complex yet often surprisingly accessible compositions would benefit from all of the potential tone colors.

For now, SAAM serves as an excellent introduction to her writing.