The New Jazz Drummer

Pat Metheny’s new release “Day Trip” (Nonesuch Records) is the first trio album that the jazz-fusion pioneer has recorded in nearly eight years. While Metheny’s more recent work with his group has consisted mostly of tightly arranged compositions for a large ensemble, “Day Trip” marks a shift to the trio format showcasing the improvisational prowess of bassist Christian McBride and drummer Antonio Sanchez.

“It’s like driving a big truck compared to driving a sports car,” drummer Antonio Sanchez said in an interview with The Hatchet about his role in Metheny’s newly skimmed down ensemble. Sanchez has been providing the groove for the Pat Metheny Group since 2003, when he first appeared on “Speaking of Now” (2002).

While performing with pianist Danilo Perez, Sanchez and Metheny first met in 2000 when they found themselves on the same bill. Sanchez, who is a Mexican-born jazz drummer, distinguishes himself from other jazz drummers by providing a very hypnotic straight eighth-note feel. In other words, his playing isn’t as ‘swung’ as most jazz musicians – although he is by no means robotic. Sanchez’s drumming on “Day Trip” reveals his seamless integration of the straight eighth-note feel with the organic nature of jazz. And unlike many jazz musicians, Metheny has managed to draw listeners largely from outside of jazz. In maintaining a high level of clarity, Metheny manages to spare nothing in terms of musical complexity. Sanchez’s confidence and rhythmic precision seem to provide the perfect frame for Metheny to paint his picture.

In place of the veteran Pat Metheny Group bassist Steve Rodby, Pat looks to Christian McBride to hold down the low end in the trio setting. McBride was recognized early on in the jazz world as one of the most virtuosic bassists of this generation. He has performed with jazz luminaries such as Freddie Hubbard, Roy Haynes, McCoy Tyner and Chick Corea to name a few. Outside of the Metheny trio, Sanchez and McBride have had ample opportunities to get acquainted with each other’s playing; they can be found performing together on D.C. Latin jazz pianist Benito Gonzalez’s 2004 release “Starting Point.” Sanchez describes the interaction between himself and McBride as “effortless.” “We’ve grown to know each other’s playing so well over the years,” he said. “We just settle into it.”

“Day Trip” is successful at retaining the highly organized structure so characteristic of Metheny’s work. The spontaneous element is still present in every note. In fact, the trio managed to nail the recording session of “Day Trip” in a single day. “It was a lightning session,” remarks Sanchez. “We had been playing together a lot on tour, but we never listened back to the recordings during the session. It was a big surprise to hear it back.”

Metheny generated all of the compositions on “Day Trip,” but he is careful not over-instruct his band members in the way the music should be played. Attracted to the freedom that Sanchez incorporates into his drumming and the soulful fluidity of bassist Christian McBride, Metheny allows them to steer the music in any direction.

According to Sanchez, “Pat wants you to play what you hear. Smart leaders let you do your thing.” A listen to “Day Trip” only reveals the innovative and exciting essence of that thing.

The Pat Metheny Trio will be playing at the State Theatre in Falls Church, Virginia on Friday, March 14 at 7 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. Tickets are $59 at tickets.thestatetheatre.com.

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