Christian Sands may appear onstage as a sideman to bigger names, but when he puts his tender fingers on those hard black and white keys, he changes the scenery of a room. In his upcoming new Mack Avenue record debut REACH, the 27-year-old jazz pianist steps into the limelight as the disarming revelation he is in person.
Reach is scheduled for release April 21 and features three-time Grammy®-winning bassist Christian McBride as co-producer and a special guest on one of the tunes, that bowed bass in the Bill Withers cover, “Use Me.” Sands regularly tours with McBride’s Grammy-nominated Trio far and wide, giving audiences a glimpse of the tasty measures rolling around in the versatile pianist’s fertile imagination.
The debut record also features other stomp-and-grind, in-demand sidemen, including tenor saxophonist/bass clarinetist Marcus Strickland, drummer Marcus Baylor, guitarist Gilad Hekselman, and bassist Yasushi Nakamura.
Known as much for his ability to incorporate a variety of styles and rhythms into his ongoing repertoire, flashing brilliance without breaking stride, and his own blossoming absorption of the world around him, Sands refuses to settle down into any one slot.
As a result, every track — there are 10 total here, eight he wrote and two he covers — sounds uniquely different, brimming with life. Nothing’s off limits, everything’s up for interpretation, just the way Sands likes it.
“The collection here is about reaching new ideas and reaching new music,” he explained in a DL Media press release. “I’m reaching from past recordings to bring in the future, which is really all about finding myself. It’s a chance to express my experience.”
To get a better idea of his experience, right now Sands is touring Japan with saxophonist Sadao Watanabe as a part of the Young Lions. Sands’ Instagram routinely shows more than the standard self-promotion of an aspiring musician laying down his tracks.
His Instagram reflects a young man eager to absorb the world around him, with a predilection for leaning toward the good, the mystic, the collective no matter how far the ride takes him. All of that, somehow, is also reflected in the music.
Sands doesn’t attack notes or coerce movement through trickery. Rather, he succumbs to a kind of controlled bliss. Listening to his music is like falling back into a pile of freshly raked leaves, taking a leap of faith off a very high cliff in the middle of a Mexican summer, or lying still in the middle of a field of daisies as the sky begins to show its colors.
One senses this is what happens to Sands when musical inspiration engulfs him in the middle of minding his own business crossing a busy Tokyo street, vaguely aware of the masses shifting into a formless, pastel- and neon-crossed reverie (“Freefall”).
“Pointing West” — with Strickland — has him countering measures, the equivalent of jogging backward on shifting sand, intercepting dramatic starts and stops with these intersecting sharp edges, turning his original composition in on itself. The rhythm section maintains the R&B shuffling hustle, to enable Sands to pick up on certain tangential points and stack his own shuffling, hustling rhythms.
Sands composed “Pointing West” during his younger days attending the Manhattan School of Music. The tune came together while practicing in a room that opened out into a view of the West Side Highway and the Hudson River. A youth’s daring desire for validation with vision and variance is clearly evident in this showcase of a piece. Yet, Sands never overdoes the chops; he always plays with purpose.
A gifted young talent like Sands could easily be forgiven for flooding his introductions with fast-paced junkets like “Pointing West,” or the opening sizzle track of “Armando’s Song” (inspired by Chick Corea). But this pianist has more going for him than opening up a floodgate of ideas of his intrepid youth.
The self-possessed, former child prodigy — he wrote his first song at age five — also has maturity on his side. Hence, the additions of balancing acts in “Use Me,” which goes from rock steady (Hekselman on guitar) to swampy, sticky blues, to the lifting of the canons. Talking McBride into peeling back his bow added an even more interesting, stylistic shift that the listener just can’t quite place — halfway between heaven and hell, purity and lust, the classics and a new hybrid of R&B wanting to happen.
There’s much to dive into on Sands’ new record. He generously shares pieces of his soul in the music that flows out: finding soulful connection in the pulse points of his “Song of the Rainbow People” — his nod to current events, finding a hip-hop take on one of his favorite movies, “The Godfather,” in “Gangstalude,” finding his Latin side in “Óyeme” with percussionist Cristian Rivera, finding an inner peace in an instrumental cover of “Somewhere Out There,” from the Grammy-Award-winning 1986 animation flick, “An American Tail.”
“Somewhere Out There’s” not your usual jazz ballad, and that’s on purpose. “I was looking for a ballad and I didn’t want to do Strayhorn or Porter,” Sands continued. “I wanted to play something that was not that familiar. So I was talking to my mother and she said, ‘What about the song from the movie with the mouse that you used to watch when you were a kid?’ She used to sing it to me when I was four or five years old while my dad would play the piano. So I told her she was a genius; I don’t think this has ever been done as an instrumental. When people hear this, I’m hoping they go, ‘Oh, yeah, I remember this.'”
Sands introduces the memorable cover straight, embracing the nostalgic warmth of the lullaby of a melody, revealing a light, deft touch in the childlike wonder. Then, he layers in his grown-up statements, an intense conflagration, as if trying to sort through the debris of what was with what is— as the bass and the drums trail in the shimmering magic of childhood dreams behind him.
Artist quotes from a DL Media press release.
Tomorrow: Osaka, Japan - Feb 23 at Sadao Watanabe with Young... https://t.co/aqQP1GkdX7— Christian Sands (@christiansands1) February 22, 2017