Intricate Counterpoint Rendered Clear as a Beam: The Music of Pianist Marta Sanchez

Dec 5, 2019

Marta Sánchez — a pianist from Madrid, now based in New York City — is celebrated for her inventive use of counterpoint and rhythm, as displayed on her radiant new album, El Rayo de Luz (Fresh Sound New Talent).

Her so-called “beams” of musical ideas are intricately deployed by a dual saxophone frontline, with Roman Filiú on alto and Chris Cheek on tenor. Within the snaky lines of those two reedmen, she finds space for her own piano interpolations. The mesmerizing counterpoint of the three voices are buoyed by bass and drums, driven forth by no defined time signatures.

Sánchez’s compositions have an almost trademark quality at this point: hypnotically circling, and grooving with a second-line urgency. Her melodies are underpinned by what she refers to as rhythmic cells — patterns independent of each other — which are delicately imposed on top of each another. Watch the band perform the album's title track.

Daniel Dor, her drummer for the last five years, says: “These meters, the way she sees them, are still in some way a mystery to me. I like that, because I can just come to them without really knowing exactly what it is in terms of the numbers.”

In our Checkout studio session, Sánchez and her band members perform songs from their latest recording, and note that it’s taken years for them to fully harness the magic of her compositions. Those elusive beats and counterpoint often remind me of the brilliant work of Argentine composer and pianist Guillermo Klein. Watch the quintet perform "Cascadas."

The Marta Sánchez Quintet performs on Thursday at Birdland in New York City.

Marta Sánchez: piano and composer
Roman Filiú: alto sax
Chris Cheek: tenor sax
Rick Rosato: double bass
Daniel Dor: drums

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