Like countless other Americans, drummer Antonio Sanchez was appalled by the anti-Mexican rhetoric Donald Trump spewed during his presidential campaign. On his 2017 album, Bad Hombre, the Mexico City–born jazz artist — best known for his groundbreaking solo-percussion score to 2015 Best Picture winner Birdman, as well as his extensive work with Pat Metheny — took one of Trump’s most infamous phrases as its title, turning bigotry into empowerment.
“[B]ad hombres are, by his definition, Mexicans — mainly Mexicans — and Latinos that are rapists and are criminals,” Sanchez told Southern California Public Radio’s The Frame. “And that we are just bringing the country down single-handedly almost. So this album is like a direct answer to that rhetoric saying there’s a lot of Mexicans that we live in the States, we contribute to society, we’re good people, we’re hard-working people, we’re creative people and we’re not going anywhere. So he might as well get used to that idea.”
Sanchez furthers his reclamation of the term on Lines in the Sand, a new LP with his band Migration, out Friday in the U.S. Themed around the dark side of the immigrant experience — “[t]his is about the kind of immigrant who is constantly being demonized, ostracized and politicized by a powerful few in the name of a misguided nationalism …,” Sanchez writes on his website — the album features lengthy, prog-like suites bookending shorter tracks that zero in on a specific feel. One of the latter, “Bad Hombres y Mujeres” shows off the group’s startling virtuosity and sleek rhythmic drive. The fusion-esque piece builds on a prowling, minimal vamp, laid down by keyboardist John Escreet and bassist Matt Brewer. As Sanchez darts and weaves around the rhythmic foundation, vocalist Thana Alexa and saxophonist Chase Baird sync up for hyper-complex melody lines. Midway, through, the feel switches to a throbbing half-time groove.
We usually think of protest music as something raw and immediate; this, though, is fiercely controlled. The track’s borderline-superhuman tightness makes it feel that much more defiant, explicitly illustrating Sanchez’s script-flipping assertion of personal worth. If this is what bad hombres y mujeres are capable of, the music implies, we should all aspire to that status.