Christian Sands’ new album, “Reach,” displays influences and originality

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Pianist Christian Sands is making a name for himself in the world of jazz. His new album, “Reach,” shows the 27-year old musician making statements about his influences, and the world’s socio-political unrest. The album is comprised almost entirely of original works and they show a certain depth for a young artist.

Christian Sands and his take on jazz

Sometimes when potential listeners hear a performer described as a “five-time Grammy nominee,” they picture someone mature by any standard. That is not the case with Christian Sands. His ability to incorporate other types of music he loves into jazz and a solid playing style, help would-be fans to turn into converts and demonstrate why he has been nominated for a Grammy more than once.

Despite having a BA and an MA in music from the Manhattan School of Music, Sands’ approach does not sound cerebral or stiff. Perhaps it is because music comes natural to Sands. According to the performer’s website, his formative years were spent performing, studying and composing music. A mix of natural talent and formal education can perhaps account for Sands’ abilities. In terms of influences, everything from Afro-Cuban rhythms to hip-hop and blues have made an impact on Sands, and the various forms show up in his work.

Christian Sands’ soundscapes

Sands’ performance group for this recording is a trio. In addition to Sands on piano, the group includes bassist, Yasushi Nakamura and drummer, Marcus Baylor. The group is augmented by special guests: Gilad Hekselman on guitar, Marcus Strickland on tenor saxophone and bass clarinet, and Cristian Rivera on percussion.

The overall sound Sands crafts for this album is one that shows classic jazz moving toward jazz fusion. Audiences never forget that the songs are in fact, jazz. The lush sounds of bass and piano frequently work together. When the piano breaks away from the group, it is spirited. The bass is showcased nicely, too. Even the drums, which too often can be relegated to “merely” keeping time, show off an inspired clatter and clash sound.

“Bud’s Tune” by Christian Sands

A bright and spirited beginning is provided by the bass, but the piano comes running in. According to Sands’ website, the song was written in tribute to two of the musician’s influences, Bud Powell and Herbie Nichols.

The soundscape creates the illusion of people twirling and lifting from the ground ever so slightly. That feeling of being literally transported might be what gives Sands’ work its awe-inspiring quality. Just under the halfway mark of this classic-sounding tune, the bass and piano enjoy an energetic interplay, then there is a pliable bass solo that slows the piece down and adds texture.

Christian Sands: “Song of the Rainbow People”

The track opens like a Gospel hymn, with its building of piano chords. The chord dissipates under the shimmering crash of drums, and a bass builds in. The drums then take on a more intricate tattoo, and the piano motif from the beginning comes back, shyly, though, at first. The bass notes seem to bend and the whole piece takes on an r&b feel. Instead of the bass line making the groove, the piano does that job. The effect is heavily nuanced and masterful and fun to listen to.

According to Sands’ website the song is a call for unity. In an era of socio-political strife, there probably cannot be too many of those. Clearly then, the interplay of instruments can symbolize people and a coming together of sorts, and what happens when we lose our preconceived ideas.

“Reach” is Sands’ first recording for Mack Avenue Records, and all the critical acclaim and excitement for the release seem worth it. With eight originals and two covers, it is an ambitious project. Songs like “Bud’s Tune” and “Song of the Rainbow People” display the range and depth of Sands’ influences and inspiration.

 

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Dodie Miller-Gould is a native of Fort Wayne, Indiana who lives in New York City where she studies creative nonfiction at Columbia University. She has BA and MA degrees in English from Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne, and an MFA in Fiction from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Her research interests include popular music and culture, 1920s jazz, and blues, confessional poetry, and the rhetoric of fiction. She has presented at numerous conferences in rhetoric and composition, and creative writing. Her creative works have appeared in Tenth Muse, Apostrophe, The Flying Island, Scavenger's Newsletter and elsewhere. She has won university-based awards for creative work and literary criticism.

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