Widely hailed in the late 90s as the harbinger of a new north-south fusion in American music, the 34-year-old saxophonist David Sanchez has refused to take the easy path. On his 1998 album, Obsesion (Columbia), he assembled love songs not just from his native Puerto Rico but from throughout Latin America, and played them atop strings and horns. Sounds like a recipe for treacle, but the sweetened arrangements have a lemony aftertaste, a little tart and provocative, that makes them hardly fit fare for smooth-jazz fans. On his next two discs, Melaza (2000) and last year’s well-titled Travesia (it means “crossroads”), he unveiled his current, two-horned working band and displayed a further unwillingness to pamper his audience. Instead of settling into simple montuno grooves or diving into Latin-influenced standards, Sanchez stirs Caribbean and jazz rhythms into a complex brew, and instead of pairing his tenor and soprano with a trumpet or trombone, he squares off with alto saxist Miguel Zenon, a knotty improviser who often sounds like his musical half brother. Their interaction, sometimes in the form of serpentine improvised counterpoint, belies the rhythm-heavy, melodically simple roots of Latin music; they sound like a south-of-the-border version of Ornette Coleman’s late-60s quartet with Dewey Redman on tenor. (Sanchez seemed to push further in that direction when he brought a pianoless quartet to play last year’s Chicago Jazz Festival.) At press time it was unclear whether Zenon would make this gig; if he doesn’t it’ll open up more space for the band’s sterling pianist, Edsel Gomez, and the hugely talented drummer Adam Cruz. Sanchez’s music may not always seize the heart, but it never fails to light up the brain. Tuesday, March 18, through Thursday, March 20, 8 and 10 PM; Friday and Saturday, March 21 and 22, 9 and 11 PM; and Sunday, March 23, 4, 8 and 10 PM, Jazz Showcase, 59 W. Grand; 312-670-2473.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Michael Jackson.