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A look inside The Jazz Gallery

Album art courtesy of the artist.

Marta Sánchez’s long-standing quintet will return to The Jazz Gallery this week for the release of their latest album, “Danza Imposible” (Fresh Sound Records). The quintet, highlighting intricate melodic work and rich arrangements, features Roman Filiú and Jerome Sabbagh on saxophones, Rick Rosato on bass, Daniel Dor on drums, and of course Sánchez on piano and compositions. In a prior Jazz Speaks post, we spoke with Marta about her quintet work on Partenika, her previous album, which was included in New York Times journalist Ben Ratliff’s ‘Top 10’ list for 2015. Sánchez was additionally awarded a 2017 MacDowell Fellowship, where she composed new works for prepared piano. We spoke at length with Sánchez about her textural and contrapuntal approach to composing for quintet.

The Jazz Gallery: Your album titles and artwork are always intriguing. Could you tell me a little about both the title and the art for Danza Imposible (Fresh Sound/New Talent), the new record?

Marta Sánchez: The title is actually from one the pieces, meaning “Impossible Dance” in Spanish. Iit has a triplet-based groove, but it’s in 11/8, so it’s good under the hands, but something’s still weird there. The artwork is by Alicia Martin López, a friend I met in New York. We both came over with Fulbright grants. When we met, I didn’t know what she was doing on her Fulbright, but when she returned to Spain she posted some of her work, and it was beautiful. She did my previous record, Partenika, and I loved that, so I asked her to do this one too.

TJG: What do you like about this cover for Danza Imposible?

MS: Well, I think it represents the music, and now that you ask, it has this weirdness as well. It’s beautiful and attractive, but at the same time mysterious. There’s some strangeness there, and we don’t know where it comes from. My music has a bit of that too.

TJG: Is there something about the concept of impossibility that excites you as a jazz musician? A challenge to break through or overcome?

MS: I don’t think in terms of breaking through the impossible. With my titles, I’m usually thinking of something in the moment. It might be trivial, but I try to be honest with what I feel, and use what I have in sight. Yes, you have to challenge yourself and discover your music, but what attracts me most are the unexpected things. I like when I hear music and it doesn’t sound exactly how I expected. I like the unexpected, but not impossible things [laughs]. Things that surprise you.

TJG: In Ben Ratliff’s liner notes, he writes: “These are compositions that are written expressly for quintet; they can’t be reduced.” By which I think he means, these aren’t just lead sheets that you could put in front of any other ensemble, a trio for example.

MS: It’s impossible, yeah. Every instrument has its own important part. It’s contrapuntal, all the melodies are equal. If you removed one voice, the song wouldn’t be the same. The voices create textures, so it’s not playable on solo piano either. My part is already usually very intricate or involved, so I couldn’t take another part. The sound of two saxophones together gives a spread-out range, but also a great blend that you couldn’t get with a trumpet or other brass.

TJG: I was about to ask: Is it a challenge to write equal, contrasting voices for the quintet when two of the voices are so timbrally similar?

MS: They’re similar, but they’re not the same. The styles of Roman Filiú and Jerome Sabbagh are so different. We can use different rhythms to make things separated or very different too. So I don’t see that similarity as a particular challenge.

TJG: Do you think you’ve found your voice writing for the quintet?

MS: Here’s what I can say about my music: It sounds personal. It honestly represents myself. For everything you can say about it, about the compositions or the arrangements, it definitely has a personal sound.

TJG: So when you’re composing at the piano, or an idea comes to you while walking, do you think of the quintet sound first?

MS: When I compose, I compose for that thing. I don’t compose year-round, so these days, I sit down and write for specific bands and projects. If I sit down to write for quintet, I’m already in that quintet mindset. I think a lot in terms of textures, how I want the sound of the piece to be. Because of that, I think of instrumentation first, because the texture would be so different from one instrumentation to another.

TJG: I recently interviewed Roman Filiú about his creative composition approach. Do you ever talk about your compositions with him, or other quintet members, while you’re writing?

MS: While I’m writing, no. I talked a little with Filiú about how we write, we’ve know each other for a long time. But honestly, the process is a bit more in my head. Everything can be an inspiration. A poem, something I’m reading, something I’m listening to, anything. When I sit down, it’s only a matter of choosing one note over another, one chord or another. When I say to myself, “I’m gonna write,” I put myself in a creative state where everything can influence me. I may, for example, go to see a movie with friends and really like it. I’ll ask myself “Okay, why?” and then try to extrapolate the idea of why I like it and use it to write. It’s that way when I listen to music too. I’ll hear a cool ecosystem on someone’s CD, and try to recreate it with my own quintet.

TJG: You were recently awarded a MacDowell Colony residency, correct? What kind of work did you compose?

MS: Yes, I was there in March. I was working for prepared piano, which was one of the reasons I wanted to go to MacDowell. I don’t have a baby grand or time to experiment, both of which you need for prepared piano composition. I wanted to explore textures and counterpoint on the piano but with different sounds, because prepared piano is really its own instrument. I had some technical problems because my computer broke midway through the residency and I lost the material I was working on. So I didn’t finish the project, but I made a lot of progress. It’ll be a long-term project. It’s not easy music, and I’ll need to practice a lot. I may need to find another residency to do that. 

TJG: Do you often play solo piano?

MS: No I don’t, and it’s so challenging. When I do, I usually play standards. I wanted to have something personal and challenging. I think playing piano solo is one of the hardest things ever. And maybe, if I perform the project and I like it, I’ll go another step farther, to grow somehow.

TJG: Would you ever write for prepared piano and quintet?

MS: Actually, that would be nice, now that you say it. You have to be careful with prepared piano, though. With MacDowell, I tried to have pieces with similar preparation, and pieces where you can quickly remove things from the piano. It can take a long time to prepare the piano, and the audience could get bored between songs. But that’s a good idea, now that you ask. It’s tricky with the quintet when you comp. You want to play something high, but you have to remember there are screws on the strings. Maybe! [laughs]. You have to be thinking of a lot of things. It’s its own instrument, it changes everything. You can’t just think about the notes.

TJG: Ratliff also wrote that, of your music, “The last twenty-five years of cross-pollinated energies between New York and Barcelona, and by extension Madrid, helps to define the record.” Do you feel musically pulled to both sides of the Atlantic? As a musician, anything that you can’t do in New York?

MS: I feel like I live in New York. I go often to play in Spain, and feel really connected to the people, mostly with my Spanish band. But I don’t have a lot over there, aside from the friends and people I see and play with. There are great musicians in Spain, but I’m not doing a lot over there right now. I feel super comfortable in New York. You never know, things can change quickly. But I feel like I’m growing more here. For now, I don’t feel like I have to leave New York to do anything. Maybe to make money [laughs].

TJG: Well, we can’t wait for the release show. Thanks for taking the time to speak with us.

MS: Thank you! I’m really looking forward to doing the release at The Jazz Gallery, I love the place.

Marta Sánchez celebrates the release of Danza Imposible (Fresh Sound) at The Jazz Gallery on Wednesday, October 18th, 2017. The group features Ms. Sánchez on piano, Roman Filiú on alto saxophone, Jerome Sabbagh on tenor saxophone, Rick Rosato on bass, and Daniel Dor on drums. Sets are at 7:30 and 9:30 P.M. $15 general admission (FREE for members) for each set. Purchase tickets here.