Saxophonist Will Vinson, Drummer Antonio Sanchez & Guitarist Gilad Hekselman Launch ‘Trio Grande’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

Trio Grande is the debut that unites three of the most inventive, exciting, and accomplished musicians working at the interface of New York’s contemporary musical culture.  British-born saxophonist Will Vinson, Israeli guitarist Gilad Hekselman and Mexico City native, longtime Queens resident Antonio Sánchez, first came together at the city’s legendary club residencies at the Cornelia Street Café, and the chemistry and excitement was immediate. Each brings their own formidable reputation as bandleader and composer in their own right, but when they started playing together, with all the freedom afforded by the bass-less trio format, they began to take the music in surprising directions.

Originally from London, alto saxophonist/composer Will Vinson moved to New York City in 1999 and has remained there ever since. Since his arrival, he has appeared and/or recorded with Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Ari Hoenig, Marcus Gilmore, Chris Potter, Kurt Elling, Lage Lund, Aaron Parks, and many others. Will is a member of a number of leading ensembles, including pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba’s Quartet, Ari Hoenig’s Punk Bop and Nonet, Miguel Zenon’s Identities Orchestra and his own groups involving players such as Lage Lund, Jeff Ballard, Aaron Parks, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Shai Maestro and Mike Moreno. In 2012, along with bassist Orlando le Fleming and guitarist Lage Lund, he formed the critically acclaimed OWL Trio, whose eponymous debut in 2013 was hailed by critics and listeners alike. That unit operates without a drummer while this one does so without a bassist with Vinson obviously comfortable in both settings.

Drummer Antonio Sanchez was born in Mexico City and is a five-time Grammy Award winner. Since moving to New York City in 1999, (the same year as Vinson) Antonio has become one of the most sought-after drummers in the international jazz scene. Sanchez is a steady collaborator with guitarist/composer Pat Metheny and has recorded and performed with many other prominent artists such as Chick Corea, Gary Burton, Michael Brecker, Charlie Haden, and Toots Thielmans. In 2014 Sanchez’s popularity soared when he scored Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) which garnered four Academy awards (including Best Picture) and for which Antonio won a Grammy award. Additional film/tv projects include EPIX network’s Get Shorty and Hippopotamus, among others. Sanchez currently has close to a dozen recordings as a leader and solo artist. Among his many recordings, is his most recent 2019 release, Lines in the Sand, with his band Migration, which serves as both a protest to injustice and as a tribute to every immigrant’s journey.

Gilad Hekselman has established himself as one of the leading voices in jazz guitar. Only a few years after his arrival to NY in 2004, this native Israeli was already sharing stages with artists such as Chris Potter, Eric Harland, Mark Turner, Anat Cohen, Ari Hoenig, Esperanza Spalding, among many others. Ask For Chaos, Gilad’s most recent full-length album, was released on two years ago on his new label, featuring both of his new working bands: ZuperOctave (with Aaron Parks on piano and keys and Kush Abadey on drums) which is a bass-less band that explores electronics with the goal of keeping the music organic and flexible, and the gHex Trio (feat. Rick Rosato on bass and Jonathan Pinson on drums) which continues the classic guitar trio sound that Gilad has become known for while also bringing something fresh to the music. So, Hekselman already has experience in the bass-less format. 

Together this trio, to use a well-worn cliché, makes magical music with a truly distinctive sound. Sometimes it sounds like classic fusion but at other times it sounds remarkably contemporary, without any easy reference points. The opener “Northbound,” propelled by its insistent low-end guitar riff, and “Gocta,”, with its array of vast, epic soundscapes, were written by Sanchez and reflect his ability to deliver the excitement of rock music within a sophisticated musical framework. The uplifting, joyously dancing “Elli Yeled Tov,” with its echoes of carnival, reflects Hekselman’s love of song forms, whether pop or folk -based. His haunting ballad “Will You Let It?” shows his total commitment to melody, while the lowdown funked-up “Scoville” is both an opportunity to flex his guitar chops and a homage to the guitar master. 

Vinson’s “Oberkampf” is a broodingly atmospheric piece, brought into focus by contrasting but equally melodic solos from guitar and saxophone, evoking some of the electric Miles Davis and Wayne Shorter’s work with John McLaughlin. “Upside,” another Vinson original, maintains an elegant swing, while Sanchez’s “Firenze” develops from an equally poised cool into a frenetic coda: both tracks allow the trio to blow freely over a closely written structure in classic jazz style, yet their vision is so unified and complete that each tune develops organically, without either sounding like a generic head-and-solos piece. Texture and dynamics are as important as melody and improvisation, all brilliantly captured by engineer Mike Marciano’s warm, crystal clear studio sound.

<P>The music will be available on CD/DL and Limited Edition 180g Double LP with gatefold artwork. The LP contains three bonus tracks: an original by Vinson, a loving deconstruction of John Lennon’s “Jealous Guy” and a reverent reading of “Silence” by Charlie Haden. The selection of tracks shows the scope of the trio’s no-limits influences and underlines the spirit of openness and unity of purpose that defines this collaboration. This writer has only heard the CD version and the absence of the bass gives the music a floating, atmospheric quality that more often than not, gently and warmly washes over the listener just like that refreshing shower you’re eager to take at day’s end. Certainly, the closing ballad “Will You Let it?” fits that bill.


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