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Antonio Sanchez Enlists Trent Reznor, Dave Matthews, Pat Metheny & More On “Bad Hombre Vol II” (Album Review)

By Jim Hynes for Glide Magazine

 

Antonio Sanchez is many things – composer, producer, drummer, provocateur, visionary, and multi-instrumentalist. The 4-time Grammy winner returns here with all those attributes, except perhaps provocateur, on this sequel to his 2017 Grammy-nominated release, Bad Hombre. While that effort was overtly political, this is a major change, thus the title, Shift. The album is a cross-cultural collaboration featuring his favorite singer-songwriters, wherein he deconstructs and reimagines their material. Sanchez, lauded as a drummer, may have never envisioned himself playing guitar, bass, mandolin, ukulele, and oud; yet he plays all those instruments and more, as well as sings, on the project.

These remote collaborations took hold mostly during the pandemic shutdown, but Sanchez has been working on the project for the past three years. There are 16 tracks featuring this dizzying list of guests – Ignacio Lopez Tarso (2), Dave Mathews and Pat Metheny, Ana Tijoux, Becca Stevens, Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross, MARO, SONICA, Lila Downs (2), Thana Alexa, Meshell Ndegocello, Silvana Estrada, Kimbra, and Rodrigo y Gabriela. The concept is to feature the drums and the voice as equal musical partners, so the drum tracks are often layered much like guitar, voices, and keyboards in highly produced projects. In a way, it’s a grand experiment of textures. Parts of it are Sanchez going back to his rock roots in his early teens in Mexico making a drum-heavy, groove-laden album employing a myriad of production techniques.

The album is bookended by the Mexico actor and film star, 97-year-old Ignacio Lopez Tarso with a combination of spoken word and music. “Eh Hee,” essentially a primitive mix of chants and head snapping drumbeats, picks up a rocking groove in the chorus with Dave Mathews singing and Pat Metheny creating a sonic bed along with Sanchez. Other rockers include “I Think We’re Past That Now” with Reznor and Ross from Nine Inch Nails and “Doyenne” from the Venezuelan rock band SONICA. The former, now a single, was developed from just a sketch of voice, a click, and a synth line that Sanchez shaped into what he describes as a “total headbanger,” but portions of it are eerily haunting. Suffice it to say, it’s far from a heavy metal assault. “Doyenne” carries a simple undulating pop-rock melody, around which Sanchez weaves his drums and keys.

In addition to Tarso, Sanchez features three other Mexican artists. Vocalist Lila Downs appears on “Risa de Mujer,” her lovely alto floating above a gentle undercurrent, with the tune appearing again later as an interlude. Silvana Estrada also sings beautifully in the higher registers to mostly an ethereal backdrop and a delayed backbeat before the song heads into psychedelic sonics in the second half of “El Agua y la Miel.” “M-Power” features the lauded acoustic guitar duo Rodrigo y Gabriela playing at impossibly breakneck tempos.

More cross-cultural contributions come from Chilean- French Ana Tijouz in hip-hop style on “Mi Palabra,” while Portuguese MARO sounds every bit as dreamy as she did on Gerald Clayton’s Blue Note release, Bells of Sand, released earlier this year. Brazilian Meshell Ndegeocello’s “Comet, Come to Me” adeptly fuses echo effects, superior drumming, and electronics to create a very upbeat, danceable vibe.

Closer to home, Sanchez rather naturally includes his Croatian-born wife, Thana Alexa, who performed as the lead vocalist for Bad Hombre at Newport Jazz in 2022 while Sanchez also supported her own band in her set. “Trapped (Red Room)” features her layered vocals while their friend and fellow Grammy nominee Becca Stevens begins “The Bucket” singing practically a cappella above a light backdrop, as Sanchez builds the sonics, revealing a series of layers in combination with her voice. Sanchez features only himself on “Waiting,” not surprisingly one of the best drumming exhibitions.

This is a massive project that will take several listens to digest and appreciate. After all, it took three years to complete and the careful attention to detail certainly shows.