Stefon Harris, David Sanchez, Christian Scott
Recorded May 2010 in Havana; Studio 18, EGREM.
Mixed at Village Studios, Los Angeles, CA.
Mastered at CMG Mastering.
This album is a collaboration between vibraphonist Stefon Harris, trumpeter Christian Scott, and tenor saxophonist David Sa'nchez, recorded in Havana with Cuban musicians, including pianists Rember Duharte and Harold Lo'pez-Nussa. It's not a Latin jazz album, though; these guys are primarily interested in moving classic hard bop into the future with infusions of hip-hop sensibility and groove, and that aesthetic permeates Ninety Miles, though there are occasional keyboard montunos and plenty of conga-driven rhythms to be heard, particularly on the album's peak, the hard Afro-Cuban/New Orleans funk workout "Congo." In a way, Ninety Miles is a puzzling album, because it doesn't seem to be making any explicit political statement; it's about the artistry, and nothing more. Christian Scott is a blazing young trumpeter in the Clifford Brown mold; Stefon Harris, who came up under Greg Osby, is keenly aware of the vibes' traditional position within jazz, and makes the most of that; David Sa'nchez is a powerful saxophonist with a flair for melody over muscle-flexing displays of lung power. And that's all they really want you to take away from this album. It's a blowing session that just happens to have been recorded in Cuba, with Cuban musicians backing them. Which, in its way, is a political statement, if an oblique one. But the album is well worth hearing on purely musical grounds.
All Music Guide
On paper, Ninety Miles was a tantalizing project from the beginning; bringing together three of the most exciting voices in modern jazz-Puerto Rican-born tenor saxophonist David Sanchez, New Orleans trumpeter Christian Scott, and New York vibraphonist Stefon Harris- and transport them to Havana to play with two outstanding, piano-led Cuban jazz quartets. The American red tape took a year to negotiate-which shows a dogged determination of sorts on all sides-but the musical connection that resulted was clearly instant, judging by the exhilarating septet interplay and inescapable grooves captured here.
Pianists Rember Duharte and Harold L?pez-Nussa each contribute two compositions, and bring their distinctive accents to three and five of the tracks respectively. Duharte's piano riffs combine with the propulsive, revving electric bass of Osmar Salazar to bring African flavored ostinatos to "Nengueleru," and "Congo," where the pianist's wordless singing lends a rich baritone layer to the melody. L?pez-Nussa displays a more classically Cuban feel in his piano rhythms and a cleaner, salsa-inflected sound on "E'Cha" and "La Fiesta Va." Yandy Martinez Gonzalez's acoustic bass adds to the more traditional, yet no less vibrant flavor that L?pez-Nussa's quartet brings to the septet.
The North American trio create most of the fireworks, and throughout Ninety Miles provide plenty of inspired soloing. Sanchez' beautifully measured phrasing is lyrical and yet suspenseful, particularly on "Nengueleru." Harris' boppish solos are striking for their combination of intensity and soul. His mallets lend a dreamy ambience to the intro on "City Sunrise" and he later throws all caution to the wind with a stunning improvisation on this cracking interpretation of a Sanchez tune. On "The Forgotten Ones" Harris brings a weightlessness to Sanchez's purring lament, over Edgar Martinez Ochoa's subtlest percussion on double-headed bat? drum. Scott's confident voice shines though on daring trumpet runs, most notably on "Congo," and he works wonderfully in tandem with Sanchez on Harris's impressive arrangement of "Black Action Figure."
Congueros Ochoa and Jean Roberto San Miguel impregnate the music with stirring Afro-Cuban rhythms and add quite subtle textures. Ochoa puts real bounce into "And This Too Shall Pass," setting up Sanchez for a rippling solo, and is supported by L?pez-Nussa's percussive comping. Drummers Eduardo Barroetabena and Ruy Adrian L?pez-Nussa's presence is more felt than overtly stated, and that congas hold percussive protagonism over drums provides one of the striking aspects of the music. All eleven musicians, however, bring strong rhythmic currents to the collective playing.
An accompanying DVD offers a sneak preview of the forthcoming documentary on the making of Ninety Miles and two pulsating live tracks from the musicians' performance in Havana. It's a shame that the Latin Jazz Grammy has ceased to exist, as Ninety Miles would be an outstanding contender. The boost that such an accolade could give to Cuban pianists Duharte and Lopez-Nussa and their excellent quartets makes this loss doubly lamentable. Suffice it to say, this will still stand as one of the very best jazz recordings of the year, in any category.
- IAN PATTERSON,
Published: August 29, 2011
Ask a roomful of jazz fans about GRAMMY® Award-winning saxophonist David S?nchez and the ensuing buzz will be filled with exultant praise for one of the finest saxophonist of his generation. Such comments are entirely valid, to a point. The Puerto Rico-born S?nchez is unquestionably one of the finest, most progressive players on the contemporary scene, as more than a decade's worth of bold, brilliant work has already proven. But, is S?nchez a master of Latin Jazz or an exemplary player who also happens to be of Latin heritage? The distinction may seem subtle, but is actually profound. As noted critic Bob Blumenthal observed, "[S?nchez] has been nurturing his own distinct variety in recent years, one that draws heavily on…Miles Davis and John Coltrane and weaves rhythms in fluid strands. What results is far closer to the more daring post-bop tradition than to standard Latin music."
Sanchez started playing drums and percussion at age 8, before switching to tenor saxophone at age 12. The bomba and plena rhythms of his native country, accompanied with Cuban and Brazilian musical influences, shaped his early musical taste. In 1986, he enrolled in the Universidad de Puerto Rico, but went to New York City instead. In 1988 he was awarded a music scholarship to Rutgers University in New Jersey. Due to the University's close location to New York City, Sanchez became an active member in the jazz community. His first musical experiences include pianists Eddie Palmieri and Hilton Ruiz. In 1991, thanks to trumpeter Claudio Roditi, Dizzy Gillespie invited Sanchez to join his "Live the Future" tour.
Concurrent to maintaining his busy tour schedule, S?nchez continues his longstanding tradition of assisting with jazz education programs. Such work, he says, "gives me great satisfaction. At the same time, it's a real challenge, and you end up learning so much yourself. You give, but you receive too. It gives me such tremendous joy."
Sanchez's last Concord release Cultural Survival topped the critic's best jazz albums of the year's lists and garnered accolades from the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and more.