Jazz has always been about fusing rather than fusion. But there's a new generation of improvisational players from around the world who are effortlessly blending wide-ranging cultural and generational ideas in their music. These artists are equally conversant in Ben Webster, Kanye West, and Fela Kuti. They might cover Coltrane and Radiohead, but using contemporary Western instruments. It's jazz with a global scope, modern sensibility, and an intimate, personal feel.
One musician who is naturally engaging a world of influences in his music is Puerto Ricoborn saxophonist David Sanchez. When he brings his new sextet to the Herbst Theatre June 13 to debut music from his just-released album, Cultural Survival (Concord), Sanchez will cap an expansive run of so-called multilingual jazz artists coming through the Bay Area. Preceding Sanchez at venues across the region are saxophonist Charles Lloyd, pianist Marc Cary, bassist Esperanza Spalding, and pianist Edward Simon, who are all bringing variations on the theme of modern jazz as a genre informed by worldwide cultures.
It all starts next week with SFJAZZ's "Miles from India" concert at the Palace of Fine Arts, a live presentation of the recent Four Quarters album of the same name. Producer Bob Belden and Indian keyboardist and co-arranger Louiz Banks reworked the music of Miles Davis and recorded it with such Davis alumni as bassists Ron Carter, Michael Henderson, and Marcus Miller; keyboardists Chick Corea, Adam Holzman, and Robert Irving III; drummers Jimmy Cobb and Lenny White; and such Indian musicians as Ravi Chari on sitar, Vikku Vinayakram on ghatam, and V. Selvaganesh on khanjira. The composer himself used sitar and tabla on numerous sessions throughout the 1970s, when he began making funkier and more layered, open-ended music.
Davis and numerous jazz musicians before him from Duke Ellington and Yusef Lateef to Randy Weston and John Handy integrated musical elements from non-Western cultures into their work. So it's not surprising that a younger player like Sanchez, who is equally at home improvising with Latin jazz piano legend Eddie Palmieri as he is touring with guitarist Pat Metheny, would meld ethnic nuances of his Caribbean heritage with a postmodern jazz sensibility.
Sanchez's Cultural Survival is a cycle of seven original songs and one Thelonious Monk ballad. The disc culminates in the 20-minute "La Leyenda del Canaveral," inspired by a poem written by Sanchez's sister Margarita about African and Caribbean sugar cane plantation workers. It's a relatively new and spare, though lyrically rhythmic, sound for Sanchez, forged during a three-year immersion in African folkloric recordings from Tanzania, Cameroon, and the Congo, and his impromptu tour with Metheny. "Doing the tour with Pat was really a confirmation for me that there are different sounds out there," Sanchez said from his Atlanta home. The saxophonist has mainly played with a pianist but now works with guitarist Lage Lund in his band.
"In some ways there is more space for me there," he added.
Also exploring new concepts is veteran saxophonist Lloyd, who performs at the Healdsburg Jazz Festival May 31 with his Indian-musicinspired Sangam Trio, which includes percussionist Zakir Hussain and drummer Eric Harland. The band uses its ethnic edges as stepping stones. "It's really what propels the music," Harland said of the intuitively improvisational trio during an SFJAZZ rehearsal in the city.
Venezuelan pianist Edward Simon also mixes new and old approaches: he studied classical piano at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia and jazz at the Manhattan School of Music before joining trumpeter Terence Blanchard's band.