The pathway to the central mystery of jazz, to the spontaneous creation of music that is a perfect balance of craft and art, is filled with unforeseen twists and turns. Even an artist as gifted as John Coltrane was obliged to explore it via a relentless, almost obsessive, quest for its essential musical truths.
For a player such as David Sanchez, who opened a six-night run Tuesday at Catalina Bar & Grill, the path is still merely a beckoning destination. Blessed with superior technical skills and musically imaginative, the young tenor saxophonist has barely moved beyond the rigorous display of those attributes and into the heart of the music itself.
His initial set only intermittently exhibited his more impressive qualities. Performing selections from his current album, "Sketches of Dreams," Sanchez appeared distracted, first by audio problems, then by the less-than-energetic accompaniment from his musicians. His playing ranged from loose, disjointed rambling to sudden, brilliant bursts of rapid-fire ideas.
There were times, in fact, when Sanchez was on the verge of being upstaged by one or two of the other players. Conga drummer Richie Flores brought the opening numbers alive with spectacular soloing, and pianist Brad Mehldau enlivened "Falling in Love," the evening's sole standard, with a Keith Jarrett-like melodic tour across the tune's floating harmonies.
Sanchez's own soloing did not achieve any real focus until the set was nearly over. Only in the final two numbers did he begin to reveal that he possesses an embryonic creative drive to match his imagination and skill.
* David Sanchez Quintet at Catalina Bar & Grill through Sunday. 1640 N. Cahuenga Blvd., (213) 466-2210. $15 cover tonight and Sunday, $18 cover Friday and Saturday, with two-drink minimum. Sanchez performs two shows nightly, at 8:30 and 10:30.