Angelica Sanchez in Town

NYC Pianist Angelica Sanchez will be playing in Oakland tonight (Sat., April 23), at 1510 Performance Space.

It’s part of a west-coast tour she’s undertaking with saxophonist Phillip Greenlief and drummer Sam Ospovot.  “We have been improvising together for several years, and that seems to be a good fit. It’s been really nice playing with Sam, he immediately brought the right stuff to the trio,” Greenlief says in an email.

I’m relieved. I’d heard Sanchez was out on the west coast this week, but the only specific show date I’d seen was in Bakersfield.  (Turns out there was also a show in L.A.) Greenlief reports that they got some paying university gigs rather easily, but other shows were harder to come by. That’s understandable, given the problems venues have been having.

Sanchez has made quite a name for herself in New York. Her 2008 album, Life Between, had a lineup of big downtown NYC names that was impressive, even if one of them was her husband (saxophonist Tony Malaby).

Her piano playing is edgy yet elegant, going for lyricism and texture more than percussive battering. Don’t get me wrong; I like percussive battering. Sanchez has a compelling style of her own, though, enough so that lazy critics like me can write about her without having to mention Cecil Taylor. (Jazz Rule No. 5: If there’s avant-garde piano, you have to compare it to Cecil Taylor.)

“Eschewing a youngster’s need to dazzle, Sanchez is subtle, tossing out gnarled chords, open almost elliptical phrasing, simple folk music-like melodies, and taunt mid-speed solos,” David Adler wrote in All About Jazz. You can read that clip and more on Sanchez’s press-quotes page.

Sanchez goes solo on her latest album, A Little House (Clean Feed, 2010). It’s got a mix of serious classical emoting, some standards-minded

Along the Edge shows signs of serious classical emoting (“Along the Edge”) and the dramatic weight you’d associate with jazz standards. (“Casinha Pequenina,” the title track, by Brazilian composer Francisco Ernani Braga.)

Of course, some of that New York sense of daring comes in, too. “Up and Over” is a repeated little gimmick that makes for a fun, accelerating ride, almost like a little musical dare that you hear acted out on your speakers. And “Giant Monks,” a title that wears its influences on its sleeve, traipses through a few different jazz fields before settling on a theme that’s like boogie-woogie mixed with pensive brooding.

A couple of the tracks add toy piano, usually played simultaneously with regular piano, as in the photo above. “I’ll Sign My Heart Away,” an old Western tune, fits the toy sound well and exudes a warm charm. “Crawl Space” is further out there, spare and abstract. “Mimi” closes the album with toy piano alone, a clinky, slowly cascading improvisation.

At 1510 tonight, Sanchez, Greenlief, and Ospovat will play at about 9:00 p.m. They’ll be preceded by the duo of Henry Kaiser (guitar) and Scott Looney (keys/electronics).