The Power of Two, Part Two

It is 99 degrees in Big Sur today and my heat-benumbed brain has just about enough energy to write a short postscript to last week’s Jazz Festival piece.  Immediately after Jack DeJohnette and Bill Frisell’s transcendent duo performance, I remained in Dizzy’s Den for a group called 90 Miles, so named for the measured distance between Cuba and the southernmost tip of Florida.  David Sánchez and Nicolas Payton were the marquee attractions for this six-man Latin Jazz band, and they did not disappoint.  Unlike DeJohnette and Frisell, however, Sánchez (tenor sax) and Payton (trumpet) mostly took turns offering stellar solos that soared above the supportive framework of the other players (piano, bass, percussion and drums).  This was a two-man show that was more about comparison, even competition, than connection.

With a creamy, open tone and incredible technical dexterity, Sánchez (photo at right) is a visceral player who involves his whole body in his playing, leaning back on his heels as he blows, sinking into his knees, and thrusting his pelvis forward in a gesture that is frankly sexual, if only because his playing is so free and utterly unrestrained.  His exhaustion after he plays also seems sexual, yet he quickly recovers, and stands to the side of the stage, loose and supple and listening to the others.

Payton is more of the stand-and-blow type, his face and body impassive, like a martial artist whose power is concealed by a lack of expression.   As the two men took turns in the solo spotlight, I found myself thinking of Payton as a tree and Sánchez as a wave.  Payton doesn’t move: where does the energy come from?  In Sánchez’s playing, everything is transparent, his passion and his effort, and his performance is therefore more satisfying to watch.  In one of his blistering solos he slowly but persistently moved in degrees up the musical scale, two or three or four notes up, one or two down, then back up again, as if carrying a burden up a mountain.  When he reached the top of the phrase with a declamatory shriek the entire audience felt the glory and achievement of the moment.  Payton is a virtuosic musician, no doubt, but he plays as if he were alone, unmoved by the warm-hearted rhythms that surround him.