David Sanchez, 'Melaza' (2000)

At the end of Playing Changes is a list: The 129 Essential Albums of the Twenty-First Century (So Far). I organized these by year, and then alphabetically by artist name. I'll be running them down here, in that order. (No one appears more than once as a leader, though there’s ample overlap in personnel.)

The tenor and soprano saxophonist David Sánchez originally hails from Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, in the greater San Juan metro area. He was mentored as a young musician by the august bebop syncretist and cultural ambassador Dizzy Gillespie, in the group pointedly named the United Nation Orchestra.


Sánchez had already released five previous albums when, as a new signing to Columbia Records, he made Melaza. This album, coproduced by Branford Marsalis, was intended as a serious statement: its title translates to "molasses," which of course is the viscous byproduct of sugarcane refinery, as well as a sticky vestige of capitalist colonial suppression. Arriving as it did on a major label in the year 2000, it was sometimes regarded as a complement of sorts to Motherlanda markedly more utopian statement by the Panamanian pianist Danilo Pérez. 

What distinguishes Melaza is the fast tread and heavy traction of a real band, and especially a churning rhythm section comprising Edsel Gomez on piano, Hans Glawischnig on bass, Pernell Saturino on percussion, and either Adam Cruz or Antonio Sánchez (no relation) on drums. These would all be important figures on the development of a new Latin-jazz, on their own and in a range of other working bands.

Another notable feature on Melaza is the fact that Sánchez stands shoulder-to-shoulder in the frontline with a fiercely intelligent young alto player named Miguel Zenón. They often phrase the album's themes in coiled-spring harmony, shifting and moving as one. "Zenón’s lithe, airy alto presence is a wonderful addition to the group," Peter Margasak observed in his review for JazzTimes, "expanding the harmonic possibilities of the tunes, and providing a nice textural counter to Sanchez’s post-Coltrane muscle." (It should come as no surprise, but this isn't the last you'll see Miguel Zenón on this list.) 

Purchase Melaza on Amazon, or listen on Apple Music or Spotify.