A native of Madrid, Spain, pianist Marta Sánchez has quickly established herself as a major voice on her instrument since moving to New York in 2011. Grammy-nominated trombonist and Gallery favorite Alan Ferber describes her music thusly:
The ease with which Spanish pianist Marta Sanchez integrates folk elements from her native country’s rich music tradition with the harmonic sophistication and spontaneity of jazz is remarkable. Her artistry will undoubtedly produce many hours of compelling and important music in the coming years.
You can hear one of these compelling hours of Sánchez’s music on her new record Partenika (Fresh Sound). With her quintet in tow, Sánchez will be celebrating the release of this record at The Jazz Gallery on Thursday, March 12th. We caught up with her by phone to discuss writing for the particular members of her band and taking inspiration from surprising sources.
The Jazz Gallery: Two saxophones seems like an unconventional quintet sound, which is immediately evident on “Opening.” How did you come across this sound, and did you have Jerome Sabbagh and Roman Filiu in mind when composing Partenika?
Marta Sánchez: I don’t think it’s really that unconventional, there are other examples of this. But, I wanted to do something with two lines, or three lines with piano, and I wanted this kind of warm sound from saxophone instead of trumpet. I did have Jerome and Roman in mind from the start. I knew Roman from Madrid, where I’m from, and we came here at the same time. I wanted to do something with him. So I wrote all the music thinking of him, of them. This music is totally personalized to the two of them.
TJG: You have a quintet in New York, as well as a sextet with Camila Meza. How does your method of composition change for each of your different ensembles?
MS: I only write for specific instrumentation, so it’s different in the sense that I work towards sounds on different instruments; vibes, guitar, alto saxophone, and so on. I also have to write lyrics for one group and not the other, so it’s totally a different concept when I have words, you know? The two projects are different, even if the music probably has similarities. But actually, I think on what tonality I want, how many instruments I have, how voices might be exchanged. There aren’t that many chords, I think more in terms of lines that go together. It’s not about people playing chords and a melody, a melody and harmony. It’s many melodies in many layers, all happening at the same time. Each instrument has its own part, each has a personalized line.
TJG: The groove and the melody on “Partenika” are both so sparse, but they fit together beautifully. Did you write one line first, or did the composition come together more spontaneously?
MS: As far as I remember, the bass line came first, but then very quickly the saxophone came together. I compose lines together, one with the other. I always compose at the piano. I think in terms of sound, or groove, or some kind of atmosphere I want to create. When I have a groove, maybe I’ll imagine a melody I want to create over that, or I’ll even think of some kind of tonality between the saxophones. Mostly I sit down at the piano, and whatever ideas I have in my mind, I try them and go through them. I love composing. I try a lot of things on the piano, even if I may have a clear idea of what I want before I even write a note. If the idea isn’t working, normally I’ll stop and just come back another day.
TJG: What are some of the differences in being a musician in New York, versus working in Madrid?
MS: Well, New York is harder to dedicate your life to playing, and musicians aren’t paid as well. In Spain it’s easier to find time to play, to write music, to play with people, because you may not have to work on anything else. You can live by playing. In another sense, there are many more musicians in New York, and everybody wants to play all the time. It’s easy to be inspired, play with different people, hear music every day. So that’s a good thing about New York. There’s much more music. But it goes both ways, good and bad.
TJG: So how has your time in New York changed your process?
MS: More than my process, it’s changed my writing for sure. It’s not like I see things that have changed from what they used to be. It’s more like an evolution, I realize that I’m changing but I couldn’t point to specific ways.
TJG: Ethan Iverson wrote the liner notes for Partenika – have you worked with him before?
MS: I know him, I used to go to his workshops, and we became friends. We play sometimes together. In the liner notes, he talks tune by tune, and gives his comments about the solos and the compositions.
TJG: So you have a tune called “Patella Dislocation.” Did that happen to you?
MS: Haha. Yeah, that happened. I dislocated my knee, and the ambulance had to come, I went to the hospital. I was in a cast for six months or more. I actually couldn’t really walk well for a year. And it all happened in New York. A hard experience!
TJG: “Patella Dislocation” feels so intricately constructed, with a calculated balance of groove and freedom. Could you talk a little about that tune?
MS: I had an idea about the groove. I was actually listening to Kneebody, and was loving what I was listening to. There were super hard things coming from different voices, you know, super-fast, and I wanted to do something like that. I had an idea about voices coming in, interacting with each other, reacting in different ways. But then it was hard to come up with more. I had an idea of improvising over changes, and then I saw that it wasn’t working after the first rehearsal, so I made some changes and the results were good.
TJG: Many of the songs on Partenika push the 7- to 8-minute boundary. How do you approach structure during these long improvisations?
MS: Actually, it’s all totally free. We record different takes, and they vary a lot. The “Patella Dislocation” recording on the record was actually the longest one, and I was thinking about not choosing it because it was too long. But I liked it because many different things happen in this take. Different feelings and atmospheres. So in the end I chose this one. It’s all free. There’s very little planning. We take the tune, and we see what happens with it.
TJG: You said you worked with Roman in Madrid. How about the other people on the album?
MS: Yeah, I worked with Roman in Madrid. There aren’t a lot of musicians in Madrid, so you end up playing with everybody. I met Jason and Sam on a tour. I was in New York, and didn’t know that many people. Some people recommended the other guys to me, so I called them up. I would come to America with my music, we would tour, and then we recorded. I’m totally still playing with all of them.
TJG: What can we expect from your upcoming show at The Jazz Gallery?
MS: I dunno! We’ll play selections from the new album, which I’m really happy to say is being released on Fresh Sound Records. We’ll have a good time, and I hope people come have a good time too, and enjoy the music.
The Marta Sánchez Quintet plays The Jazz Gallery on Thursday, March 12th, 2015. The group features Ms. Sánchez on piano, Roman Filiu and Jerome Sabbagh on saxophone, Matt Brewer on bass, and Jason Burger on drums. Sets are at 8 and 10 p.m. $15 general admission ($10 for members) for the first set, $10 general admission ($8 for members) for the second. Purchase tickets here.