4-Time Grammy Award Winner Rocks Guangzhou's New Live House

Four-time Grammy Award Winner graces Guangzhou

By Kirby John Carney, November 15, 2023

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The band did not have an easy flight to Guangzhou. Bass player Lex Sadler explains that his flight to Istanbul was delayed, and then his flight to Guangzhou was delayed. He is running on three espressos and is also dealing with business he has to take care of in New York. 'Sorry, mate. It's always something going on back home,' he tells us as he is dragged away mid-conversation. Similar statements are echoed by the rest of the band. Four-time Grammy-award winner, talented jazz-drummer, and band-leader Antonio Sanchez explains to us that he is on two coffees in, and he has learned the hard way that you don't want to be too caffeinated onstage. Despite all this difficulty and other media arrangements for Antonio, the band has been nothing but graceful and warm when greeting us as we chat with them about their lives when they aren’t touring and how they have found China since arriving.

We arrive early for the interview, taking a look around the new livehouse-bar hybrid, 光芒Enlightening that opened earlier this year in Tiyu Xilu. We walk around the hybrid livehouse-bar, and they are setting up a video interview between him and a local jazz singer. We can hear the band doing a soundcheck in the livehouse room, and we have been asked not to disturb them. We go around the back and meet singer Thana Alexa who is on her phone preparing. She has already done her hair in preparation for the show. We introduce ourselves, and she is warm and graceful when talking with us. She tells us of the flight delays, tells us it is her first time in Guangzhou while telling us of all the other Chinese cities that they have performed in back in 2018-2019. She marvels at how the infrastructure of each city changes each time. She is very curious about living in China and even has some questions for us about what it is like to live here. She tells us of the Beijing concert that fell through due to flight tickets becoming increasingly more expensive while they awaited the approval of their lyrics. We thank her for her time as she needs to get back to rehearsal.


BIGYUKI on synths

The flight delays have pushed everything back. Antonio Sanchez, being a four-time Grammy award winner and an important name in the jazz space, has a video interview that must be conducted first. We give him a goofy thumbs up, and he waves back at us. The man is stoic and calm during his interview. He is helping the interviewer feel more relaxed as she goes on minute-long tangents before asking the questions. In the meantime, we go over to talk to Lex Sadler who is hanging out chatting with people back in his residence of New York. We ask him about the kind of style he likes to play, and he says he loves his electronic music. 'I like it simple, mate,' he says to us, 'I can appreciate the technical stuff, but it's just not for me.' Lex Sadler was born in Australia and currently works as a full-time musician in New York where he plays for various live venues around NYC and records bass from his home studio. We ask about performing with artists like Ellie Goulding and Ella Henderson. He is surprised that we know that he says that it was a bucket list thing for him. Not performing with the artists per se but performing on Letterman because it was something him and his parents used to watch on TV. 'I remember the studio being really cold that day; most TV studios are cold but that one was really cold,' he recalls before their manager, Denis pulls him away to solve something.


Lex Sadler on bass, Thana Alexa on vocals

Antonio's interview has gone on for a long time, but eventually, he is available. Thana Alexa kindly introduces us to her husband and tells him a little bit about us. Antonio seems interested in living in China. While his video interview was just him, our interview is with the entire band. Despite Antonio being the main attraction because of his past work on Birdman, he is insistent on that his role as a band leader is to allow others to shine. The band tells us that despite everyone being jet-lagged they know that by the time they get onstage, they will wake up.


Enlightening is a new hybrid bar in Tianhe

The band tells us that they had an incredible lunch earlier today. They really enjoy their time in China. He came with Alexa back in 2018 and with Pat Metheny. They find the new infrastructure amazing, tall buildings, and high-speed trains. Antonio tells us that he wanted to bring his style of music to China. He says that some crowds don't understand what they are trying to do, and he is fine with that because it isn't for everyone. His music is melodic and song-based. We ask how many drum solos can we expect tonight to which he replies not that many which gets a big laugh from Lex. While it is obvious that the crowd is expecting that from him, he insists that he isn't going to butcher a song for the sake of his drum solo. The songs come first, and when there is space, he will demonstrate what he can do. 'Even though the drums are very prominent, everybody has a moment and everyone is able to do exactly what they do and feel good that within the structure you can fly with that,' explains Alexa. Antonio tells that he has learned this from other great band leaders by letting everyone else get a chance to shine.


The venue's atmosphere was sublime

Despite BIGYUKI's original music sounding very different from Bad Hombre, he tells us that he has constantly searched for this as a way to push himself into becoming better by taking him out of his safe zone and forcing him to be a stronger musician. Antonio replies to this by saying he wants to surround himself with other musicians that push him out of his comfort zone. A clear theme of creative growth comes from this band.

And so the concert begins. 光芒 Enlightening is a very intimate venue that can hold up to 120 people in it. Everyone is sat down on comfy chairs with the possibility to order drinks to your side during the performance. The sound quality in here is incredible as it is comfy in here. The curtains go back to reveal the band onstage as they launch into their version of Jazz-electro fusion. Tonight the band is playing songs from Antonio Sanchez's 'Shift'. The songs from the album feature an array of vocalists that contribute a vocal passage which Antonio then arranged later in the studio. The album is as dark as it is experimental. It teeters on the edge of Jazz-pop as it does Electro-experimental.


Thana Alexa brought powerful vocals to the performance.

Tonight, the band is bringing it. Across the 7-song set, each song is averaging around 8 minutes with extended drum solos, chaotic classical-experimental pieces from Big Yuki, and improvised scat solos from Alexa Thana. Her vocals remind us of Portishead, being ambient, deep, mysterious, and powerful. Her lyrics convey messages of female empowerment and emotional depth, all the while she performs openly to the audience and is constantly vibing with the music of her talented backing band. BIGYUKI and Lex Sadler are demonstrating clear influences from electro artists like Aphex Twin and Nine Inch Nails, while BIGYUKI maintains some classic elements later on. Antonio's drumming style is the backbone and centerpiece of it all, with his well-timed fills.


Grammy-award winner Antonio Sanchez is a machine on the drums. 

Standout pieces of the set include the song Trent Reznor, Nine Inch Nails, contributed to Antonio's album "I Think We're Past That Now," which is haunting and dark, with the gender-swapped singer roles working very well. "Mi Palabra" and "Risa De Mujer" are spoken-word pieces that carry weight and power with the backing of Antonio's powerful drums. During "Suspended Animation," Thana does a vocal solo followed by Yuki performing a manic yet peaceful piece, while Antonio and Lex create a Jazz Trap, which only adds to the pure improvisational chaos. The song ends with BigYuki concluding with another classical piece of chaos. The song concludes with swirling emotions and a scat improvisation from Thana. The chemistry between the band is palpable. There is a clear improvisational side to the set. During the closer, "Doyenne," Antonio Sanchez takes a drum solo combined with a vocal loop that Alexa has created. In the middle of the solo, he decides to play off-tempo in as many variations as possible before returning to the beat. This causes the rest of the band to smile and laugh as the confusing and complicated drum patterns sound bizarre over the loop that was created. All of this was intentional from the three-time Jazz Drummer of the Year award winner, as it is very clear that he enjoys his time onstage by the look on his face. He is tied into a dance of passion and focus that his fellow band members marvel at while he takes his solos. An incredible concert is an understatement.

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