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It’s been a pleasure to watch pianist Christian Sands grow as a composer, musician and bandleader. By the time he was ready to graduate from Manhattan School of Music, he had released three trio albums and been nominated for a Latin Grammy as part of the School’s Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra, led by Bobby Sanabria. Tabbed by Christian McBride to be part of his quintet Insight Straight, Sands quickly became known as one of finest young pianists of his generation.
Be Water is his fourth release on the Mack Avenue label, and it finds him to mature as an artist. His compositions show him willing to take chances, and the band he has assembled for the sessions is top notch. Anchored by long-time collaborator Yasushi Nakamura (bass) and drummer Clarence Penn, he continues to bring in ace players like guitarist Marvin Sewell, saxophonist Marcus Strickland, trumpeter Sean Jones and trombonist Steve Davis. On one piece, the ensemble is supplemented by a string quartet featuring Sara Caswell, Tomoko Akaboshi, Benni von Gutzeit and Eleanor Norton.
It’s been said that everyone should own at least one Erroll Garner recording and for most people that will be his magnum opus `Concert by the Sea`. After that, adding any one of his remaining albums would be sufficient to bottle his magic except for completists who are compelled to hang on every note. If you are one of those then it’s your birthday because Mack Avenue are in the process of re-issuing twelve of his later albums and the first of these to come my way is his final studio album, recorded four years before his untimely death at the age of 55.
Originally a part of Duke Ellington’s Black, Brown And Beige, the composition “Come Sunday” has taken on a life of its own during the past several decades. And bandleader John Beasley has included the tune on his upcoming album, MONK’estra Plays John Beasley, set for release Aug. 21 on Mack Avenue.
Christian McBride’s list of roles and achievements is nearly endless.
The bassist, composer, arranger and bandleader is a six-time Grammy winner who has recorded 16 albums of his own while appearing on more than 300 recordings as a sideman. He’s also an educator and broadcaster, and he currently serves as the artistic director of the Newport Jazz Festival.
For a long time, McBride has been a voice for social justice. His most recent album, The Movement Revisited, represents his personal dedication to justice with sonic representations of four key figures of the civil rights movement: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Rosa Parks and Muhammad Ali.
McBride joined us for a conversation about what’s going on in the world right now — in particular, the George Floyd protests demanding racial justice across the U.S. and beyond — and about the details of his latest musical projects.
Here’s an exclusive premiere of a song performed by pianist Christian Sands for his upcoming album Be Water. Bassist Yasushi Nakamura and drummer Clarence Penn join Sands for this trio performance of “Can’t Find My Way Home,” a Stevie Winwood composition that Winwood recorded with Blind Faith in 1969. Haunting and heartfelt, the song was the highlight of that album, and this interpretation, which plays the melody straight, reminds us what a beautiful melody that is.
There’s a back story to these 12 reissues of pianist Erroll Garner’s recordings, listed here in the approximate order of their release. The first in the series, Dreamstreet, was recorded over two consecutive nights in December 1959, four years after Garner’s historic (and almost hysterically) popular Columbia recording, Concert by the Sea. It took two years for Dreamstreet to be issued and, when it was, the disc appeared on Garner’s own Octave Records. What happened? Garner had decided to take up struggle “for control of his own catalog,” He was contending with Columbia Records, the giant in the field — the corporation whose recordings had made him a star. It was an admirably daring move on Garner’s part, but self-determination was an integral part of his makeup.
Feeling Is Believing
Pianist Harold López-Nussa’s forthcoming album Te Lo Dije, due out August 28 on Mack Avenue Records, takes its name for the Spanish equivalent of the English phrase “I told you so.” It’s a fitting title, because if you haven’t started paying attention to this Cuban keyboard sensation yet, you better start soon. He’s already released two phenomenal albums on the Mack Avenue label — Un Dia Cualquiera and El Viaje — and with his latest, he is poised to position himself among the top ranks of modern jazz pianists. So if you blink and next thing you know he’s a superstar, well … te lo dije.
Trumpeter Jeremy Pelt and sax man Walter Smith III wander in and out of this set, anchored by the leader’s piano and Rhodes, Ivan Taylor’s bass, and drummer/producer Bill Wysaske, who discovered Han when she was 14 at the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts. Drummer and pianist have worked together ever since then, although Wysaske, much to his credit, doesn’t try to horn in on or thump over the others—though he does contribute the original tunes that Han doesn’t. Indeed, the overall theme of this record (Han’s third, and second on Mack Avenue) reads as respect. Nobody stomps, nobody shouts, and nobody gets in anybody else’s way. The acolyte manifests respect to the master second by second, and the master gives a short, but not curt, nod: Stoke the groove and solve problems.
Another link to the freedom struggle of the 1960s can be found in a new single by bassist Christian McBride, “Medgar Evers Blues.” For those who may not know, Evers was a civil rights activist and war veteran who died in 1963 at the hands of a white supremacist in Mississippi. (Friday was the anniversary of his death.)
Just as it did during the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War protests, music is playing an important political and inspirational role in the Black Lives Matter movement and the worldwide protests in support of it. As of this writing, the two-day old, 65 song “Black Lives Matter” playlist on Spotify already numbers almost one million followers, and features artists from four generations, including James Brown, Billie Holiday, Sam Cooke, Nina Simone, Bob Marley, Gil Scott-Heron, N.W.A., Public Enemy, Kendrick Lamar, Esperanza Spalding, Nipsey Hussle, Ludacris, and Killer Mike. The list’s diversity of musical styles shares the common theme of exposing and fighting the systemic racism that for too long as been a centerpiece of America’s story.
It’s rather rare for serious jazz musicians to market themselves the way pianist/composer Connie Han does on her second album, Iron Starlet. If one were to view the press photos, let alone those in the CD, one might think they promote a dominatrix. No matter: most of you are listening digitally these days anyway. Han’s music is attention-getting regardless. She drew raves with her 2018 debut Crime Zone, and now the 23-year-old pianist/ composer returns with a fierce set of tunes that pays respect to her forbearers like the late McCoy Tyner and Hank Jones to the Young Lion period artists spearheaded by the Marsalis brothers, Kenny Kirkland and Jeff “Tain” Watts, among others. Han expresses it this way, “The intention of this music is to continue a legacy of tough, primal, raw but still intellectually engaging straight-ahead jazz. I am an aspiring star in this music, but I am not a naïve, uncertain girl that people wrongly associate with that term.” So, that’s the gist of the album title, an iron-clad star who easily repels sniping, stereotypical quips. She’s not fooling around.