On the 2015 Fresh Sound New Talent release Partenika, pianist/composer Marta Sánchez introduces her New York City-based quintet, a thoroughly engaging outfit that should appeal to a broad stripe of creative jazz listeners. In addition to Sánchez, who was born in Madrid, the ensemble features France-born tenor saxophonist Jerome Sabbagh, Cuba-born alto saxophonist Román Filíu, Australia-born bassist Sam Anning, and California-born drummer Jason Burger, a lineup reflecting not only the leader's global jazz perspective but also the continuing vitality of N.Y.C. as a locus for world-class jazz musicians. The City's creative jazz scene has provided myriad opportunities for artists like Sánchez to push their chosen idiom in new directions that appeal to adventurous listeners without alienating those with more straight-ahead sensibilities, and the pianist seems to have adopted this as a guiding principle on an album that ranges from lovely ballads to freewheeling escapades. She has noted that Partenika's music -- all of which she composed -- is based on contrapuntal lines and textures rather than melodies played over chord changes, and in her hands the result is an appealing marriage of creative jazz expressiveness and a classical sense of form. Sánchez's compositional strategy is clearly evident in the interactions of the two saxophonists, right from the get-go in Partenika's three-and-a-half-minute "Opening" as, supported by Anning's rich arco bass and Burger's cymbal washes, she repeats delicate yet insistent motifs and then Sabbagh and Filíu pick up the thread, tossing it gently back and forth before varying their lines and shifting the harmonic foundation beneath a solo that finds the pianist's fingers dancing effortlessly across the keys.
The saxophonists oftentimes engage in similarly tight yet fluid tandem playing, notably on such numbers as the sparkling Latin-inflected (and appropriately titled) "Yayyy" and "Small Game," the latter of which features Sabbagh and Filíu mirroring each other in a back-and-forth hocket (as noted by pianist Ethan Iverson in the liners), overlapping and pingponging their connected phrases across the stereo field. "Small Game" requires precision but also maintains a jazz feel wholly unlike the relentlessly pummeling approach to hocketing sometimes taken by avant classical ensembles (e.g., Louis Andriessen's "Hoketus" as performed by U.K.'s Icebreaker on 1997's Rogue's Gallery), and its theme bridges beautifully into and out of Sánchez's and Filíu's stellar solo turns. Elsewhere, "Patella Dislocation" is fractured and angular, with great performances by Anning and Burger and a Filíu feature that carries the band toward spacious collective improvisation before Sabbagh escalates from low probings into urgent flurries and pulls his bandmates along with him; the title track is subtly elastic, flowing through its changes bracketed by a richly sonorous theme; and the album wraps with "El Paso de los Años," sprightly and packed with changeups, ending the proceedings on a high note. With Partenika, Marta Sánchez and her bandmembers have created a fine album for nudging open-minded post-bop lovers toward the unpredictable, and for avant jazz fans seeking something nuanced as well as challenging.