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Marta Sánchez Creates A Truly International Sound With 'Danza Imposible'


This is FRESH AIR. In 2011, pianist and composer Marta Sanchez left her native Spain for New York. There she's been leading several bands, including a quintet with a new album. Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead says Sanchez is a distinctive composer with a truly international band.


KEVIN WHITEHEAD, BYLINE: That's the title track from the Marta Sanchez Quintet's new album, "Danza Impossible." The deliberately blurry saxophones at the top mimic a digital delay effect she heard on an Aphex Twin record. Conservatory trained in composition and piano, Sanchez connects new and old ideas and techniques not in a showy way but as tools or materials to use in shaping a style. She likes the really old art of hocketing - passing a melody back and forth between voices. Here it's alto and tenor saxes limited to a few pitches each. She doesn't overdo it.


WHITEHEAD: French saxophonist Jerome Saba on tenor. Two compatible saxophones give the frontline a certain richness. And Marta Sanchez spotlights them more than her piano. Cuban alto player Roman Filiu helps bring out the warmth and some of the Spanish feeling in her compositions, whether he's playing the melody or taking a solo.


WHITEHEAD: The music Marta Sanchez writes gets intricate, but she also gets memorable effects using simple means. That's part of what she gets from pop or medieval music. She can make a melody out of one note and the right rhythm. Jelly Roll Morton called that kind of spark the Spanish tinge.


WHITEHEAD: Like many contemporaries, Marta (inaudible) passages for bass and piano left hand. Those fiendish drills are a marker of jazz in our time. Sanchez's low ping-ponging has a spring to it, that and little interludes and players exiting and re-entering help propel the music and build drama.


WHITEHEAD: That's Rick Rosato on bass, who's from Montreal, and drummer Daniel Dore (ph) from Tel Aviv. You might think a Spanish-French-Cuban-Canadian-Israeli quintet would go haywire somehow with so many rhythmic accents in play, but New York has a way of helping musicians get their time together. Actually, this international outfit Marta Sanchez leads is a kind of quintessential New York band. Where else would these players all cross paths, ready and eager to get to work?


GROSS: Kevin Whitehead writes for Point of Departure and is the author of "Why Jazz?" He reviewed "Danza Impossible," the new recording by pianist and composer Marta Sanchez. Tomorrow, we continue our Holiday Week series featuring some of our favorite interviews of the year. We'll hear from Hassan Minhaj, a contributor to "The Daily Show" who also did a Netflix comedy special this year about being raised by Muslim parents who emigrated from India. And we'll hear an excerpt of my onstage interview with Seth Meyers. I hope you'll join us.

FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Heidi Saman, Therese Madden, Mooj Zadie, Thea Chaloner and Seth Kelley. I'm Terry Gross. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kevin Whitehead is the jazz critic for NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross. Currently he reviews for The Audio Beat and Point of Departure.