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Classic-rock songs often turn into cultural signposts for no clear reason — what does this 1969 Blind Faith epic really mean, anyway, with its obtuse lyrics and addictive, endless vamping? The pianist Christian Sands and his trio make the song matter again. Yasushi Nakamura's exploratory bass line opens the way for Sands's touch on the keyboard, at first light, then increasingly driven by Clarence Penn's kicking drum. In their hands, the song is about questing itself: its loneliness and excitement, the determination it requires, the way the final destination ultimately doesn't matter. Music is the best place to find yourself, getting lost. — Ann Powers
Barely out of his 20s, Christian Sands is an extraordinarily complete musician. It isn’t just the quality of his playing, although he has the most deft and sensitive touch at the keys; or his compositions, although they are remarkably accomplished for one so young. And it isn’t even his rapid ascent through the ranks of contemporary jazz, which has seen him sharing stages with everyone from Christian McBride to Wynton Marsalis.
No, it’s the fact that he has developed ideas about music from fields as diverse as film and martial arts. Take this new album – his eighth as leader (he recorded his first at the age of 11). “Be water” is no random phrase but a concept that informs Sands’s whole outlook on music and life in general. While studying martial arts, he was struck by a suggestion of Bruce Lee’s – that in order to be an effective fighter, you must be like water, adapting yourself to the shape of whatever vessel you find yourself in.
Billy Childs, “Leimert Park”
Billy Childs is known for the elegance of his designs; he’s a composer, arranger and producer with a feeling for the dignity of form. But of course, Childs is also a terrific pianist and keyboardist, and sometimes it’s all too easy to let that part of his identity slip to the side. Not so on a new album, Acceptance, which Mack Avenue will release on Aug. 28.
Empty your mind,” Bruce Lee said famously (by way of his friend, screenwriter Stirling Silliphant). “Be formless, shapeless, like water. You put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle … Now water can flow, or it can crash. Be water, my friend.”
Christian Sands, Be Water (Mack Avenue)
Pianist Christian Sands’ latest album was originally supposed to come out in May, but then jazz caught the ’rona and a bunch of records were delayed. Anyway, it’s out now and it’s really good. The core band features bassist Yasushi Nakamura and drummer Clarence Penn, with guests — trumpeter Sean Jones, trombonist Steve Davis, saxophonist Marcus Strickland, and guitarist Marvin Sewell — showing up here and there. This track, a version of Blind Faith’s “Can’t Find My Way Home” begins with almost detuned bass thumps, but when Sands strikes the keys, he’s playing in an almost New Orleans rock/R&B style, reminding me of Leon Russell and/or Dr. John. Nakamura’s solo is forceful, like he’s trying to yank his fingers loose of the strings, accompanied by subtle shaken percussion before the piano comes pumping back in. This is a heavy, committed performance from everyone involved, transforming this song into something transcendent.
The metaphor suggested by the title of Christian Sands’ new album is apt.
The jazz pianist says he was trying to be freer and more flexible on “Be Water,” and it shows. The set’s 10 cuts explore a wide range of moods and instrumental combinations, with Sands’ trio at the core.
Much of the material is built on the same pattern of tension and release found in a body of water. That begins with the opening “Intro,” which settles on the tonic chord after nearly four minutes of shimmering undulation.
Pianist Christian Sands is fascinated with the element of water – vital to life, surrounding us in so many ways, calm and beautiful and by turns turbulent and devastating. This is his inspiration for his third full-length album on Mack Avenue, Be Water, from the tranquil to the powerful, malleable and unpredictable. The album takes its title from the philosophy of martial arts master and movie star Bruce Lee. Lee appears on both halves of Sands’ title track offering this advice, “Empty your mind. Be formless, shapeless, like water. If you put water in the cup, it becomes the cup; if you put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle…Water can flow, or it can crash. Be water, my friend.” (And, perhaps coincidentally there is a forthcoming movie of the same name but this Is not its soundtrack.)
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.