As hard as I tried to be on time, I walked into Laurent de Wilde's set about fifteen minutes late, just as he beginning "New Nuclear Killer" from his recent album, Over the Clouds. He wasted no time on this song demonstrating his killer swing feel, and his mastery of bebop/post-bop language out of the Cedar Walton and Wynton Kelly lineage. Bassist Jerome Regard was rhythmically locked to de Wilde's left hand in the unison passages, although his intonation over the larger intervals was sometimes inaccurate. "Over the Clouds" was a meditation on the primordial instruments that will remain even after a disaster (I'm not sure if de Wilde's poetic introduction was inspired by the explosion in Lac-Megantic) and a tribute to the balafon, which de Wilde evoked by sticking some material inside the piano. A night after Lionel Loueke's seamless synthesis of African traditions and jazz, I was hoping for something less surface and more grounded given de Wilde's description of the piece. Drummer Laurent Robin often sounded stiff and stilted, especially on this tune and the trio's cover of Fela Kuti's "Fefe naa efe." It's clear de Wilde has a profound respect for Fela, and throughout the set he proved to have a deep understanding of Black American music, but Robin's one-bar loop felt less like Tony Allen's hypnotic repetition and more like a pre-programmed beat. I look forward to hearing more from de Wilde, next time with a rhythm section that will poke and prod him more actively.
A more discursive rhythm section, helmed by drummer/composer Antonio Sanchez, was found at Gesu. Surrounded by pianist John Escreet, bassist Matt Brewer, and David Binney on alto, Sanchez's repertoire was formed exclusively from tunes off his album New Life. With the opening "Uprisings and Revolutions" (which also begins the disc), Sanchez was appropriately Elvin-esque, with a rolling triplet feel and a highly melodic drum solo. Sanchez's tunes leave a lot of room for soloing, even in their multi-sectionality. His melodies are relatively straightforward and memorable. When vocalist Thana Alexa joined on "New Life," the fingerprint of Pat Metheny was more evident, especially Metheny's more Brazilian-inspired moments. Sanchez has found ways to up-end the head-solo-head format without necessarily having a through-composed form. Each member of the quartet was given a true solo cadenza, all exhibiting their own improvisational personalities and a close relationship to Sanchez's music. It's always fascinating to hear Binney as a sideman - as a highly distinctive composer, he often gets called by other leaders who are equally indebted to his music. Sanchez cited him as another major influence, and Binney's architectural marvel of an introduction to "The Real McDaddy" was a highlight of the set. Even though, on the penultimate day of the festival, ear fatigue is starting to set in, Sanchez and Migration were clearly a jewel of this year's programming.