Christian Sands – Reach – Mack Avenue

Christian Sands – Reach – Mack Avenue MAC1117, 65:36 ****:

Masterful jazz from an emerging jazz giant!

(Christian Sands – piano; Marcus Baylor – drums; Gilad Hekselman – guitar; Christian McBride – double bass; Yasushi Nakamura – double bass; Christian Rivera – percussion; Marcus Strickland – tenor saxophone, bass clarinet)

Christian Sands has become a notable jazz pianist at a young age. He started playing at the age of four, and attended the prestigious Manhattan School Of Music. One of his earliest mentors was Billy Taylor. His other influences include Wynton Marsalis, Kenny Garrett, Marcus Foster and Christian McBride. Sands rose to prominence, touring with McBride’s band, Inside Straight. Still in his twenties, he has recorded several albums as a leader and became an American Pianist Association Jazz fellowship Awards Finalist.   

Sands’ latest release on Mack Records, Reach is a collection of original compositions and two unlikely covers that bridge a diverse assortment of jazz styles. He is primarily backed by Marcus Baylor (drums) and Yasushi Nakamura (double bass), with some notable guest artists. The opening track, “Armando’s Song” (sounds like a homage to Chick Corea) begins with a lively piano-groove intro. The main impetus of the arrangement is fluent, percolating jazz that switches tempo with a drum solo that Sands frames with the opening chords. Nakamura’s deft bass connects the trio. Reaching for heartfelt emotion, “Song Of The Rainbow People” mixes hushed reverie with prominent cascading flourishes and an underlying soul-jazz rhythm hook. Tenor saxophonist Marcus Strickland joins the group on “Pointing West” and bop swing dynamics ensue. Sands’ solos reflect the style of the opus as he moves with agility and tempo-driven aesthetics. A second reincarnation of this quartet (“Freefall”) is atmospheric and has some added overdubs and expanded acoustics.

“Oyeme” lives up to its title. With impeccable Latin-tinged rhythms, Sands, Baylor, Nakamura and percussionist Christian Rivera knock out a closely-knit jam (like Toto Puente or Santana) with jaunty, funky coherence. Sands’ ability to operate in a tight rhythm piece and inject measured individual notation is stellar. Baylor and Rivera form a magnetic duo. This song rocks out! Paying tribute to an icon like Bud Powell is no easy task. The legendary Harlem pianist was considered among the greatest and compared with the likes of Thelonious Monk and Art Tatum.”Bud’s Tune” has a more relaxed finger-snapping feel with sprightly licks that radiate warmth. The melodic depth and phrasing (with some scintillating right hand notation) is resonant. Nakanura contributes a brisk solo.

With modern elements and a Metheny-esque guitar by Gilad Hekselman, “Reaching For The Sun” is accessible with a Brazilian contemporary vibe. Sands and Hekselman each have elegant solos and interact with innate chemistry. In a surprise, the ensemble (with Christian McBride as a second bassist) takes on Bill Withers’ hypnotic funk number “Use Me”. Sands arranges a jazz blues structure that morphs into a jagged (with electric guitar) fusion number. McBride, who produced, adds a double bass solo and Sands gets down with a slow-burning gospel, jazzy run. This soulful fusion approach continues on “Gangstalude” with grooves, colorful accents and another memorable piano solo. The core trio returns for the finale, “Somewhere Out There”. This sentimental ballad (originally recorded by James Ingram and Linda Ronstadt) from Don Bluth’s beloved animated film An American Tail) receives a glowing treatment that maintains the harmonic essence, but leaves Sands room too improvise.

Reach captures both traditional and modern jazz at its best!

TrackList: 
Armando’s Song
Song Of The Rainbow People
Pointing West
Freewill
Oyeme!
Bud’s Tune
Reaching For The Sun
Use Me
Gangstalude
Somewhere Out There;

—Robbie Gerson

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