Facing Dragons Christian Sands
- 1Rebel Music06:11
- 2Fight for Freedom07:17
- 4Sangueo Soul08:26
- 5Sunday Mornings07:29
- 7Her Song07:11
- 8Samba de Vela05:40
- 9Rhodes to Meditation04:07
Info for Facing Dragons
Not yet 30, Christian Sands is currently one of the most in-demand pianists working in jazz. In the last few years he has toured around the world as a bandleader and recently appeared as a sideman on records by Christian McBride and Gregory Porter. After the one-two punch of Reach and Reach Further - EP, Sands' dynamic 2017 Mack Avenue debut and his live/unreleased studio tracks EP follow-up released earlier this year, Facing Dragons is Sands' return to the recording studio with an indestructible band and an unwavering allegiance to the groove.
"I like the freedom of the trio format," says Sands. "It's more dramatic to me. It's a smaller entity but with a big personality. I can fit it into different situations dynamically, compositionally." Opening track "Rebel Music" features Sands' wide-ranging scope at its most elegant, nimbly jetting through single unison lines and bright block chords. Here and throughout the record he is joined by bassist Yasushi Nakamura and drummer Jerome Jennings, the band that Sands has been relentlessly touring with. The two sensitive accompanists are locked in sync, joined occasionally by a powerhouse pair of horns, a sinewy guitarist and a fiery pair of percussionists.
Saxophonist Marcus Strickland strikes first on the hard swinging “Fight for Freedom,” unleashing a throaty cry over the churning band. “Marcus Strickland brings a certain fire to the band,” says Sands. “Especially on this track. He’s got a rich and deep tone, so it was perfect for the earthy theme of the song.” Trumpeter Keyon Harrold shares the frontline with Strickland, playing in effortless harmony on the melody before getting a little solo space near the tune’s close.
Harrold takes centerstage later on “Frankenstein,” a churning meditation reminiscent of Herbie Hancock’s seafaring journeys of the 1960s. Sands is spacious in support and patient on his solo, the tune an energetic workout for all involved.
Earlier this year Sands was named creative ambassador to The Erroll Garner Jazz Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to the legacy of the late great pianist Erroll Garner. After inheriting the position from the late Geri Allen – one of Sands’ mentors – he is a natural fit for the role. Sands has that same affable understanding of the audience as he recognizes their innate desire to be entertained as well as enlightened. He tackles the Beatles’ “Yesterday” with a soulful saunter. “Pop music is essential in jazz. It’s new melodies, it’s new stories, or same stories told in different ways. Jazz is about storytelling and pop music has a unique story to tell.”
Sands has yet to bring his band to Venezuela but when he gets there, he’ll be more than ready for the infectious polyrhythms found on the shores of Choroni Beach. On “Sangueo Soul,” Sands bounces above the churning South American rhythms, with Caio Afune doubling the piano lines on guitar. It alternates between the two sounds, blending them at will, a sprightly dash of octaves on the piano cross paths with intergalactic vibrations. The tune is impossible to resist as a battery of rhythm pushes Sands’ piano into a righteous jaunt; clear the dancefloor. Percussionist Cristian Rivera appeared on Sands’ Mack Avenue Records debut, and the two formed a tight bond over a decade ago in Bobby Sanabria’s Afro Cuban Big Band. Percussionist Roberto Quintero, a native Venezuelan, brings the fire and authenticity to the party.
“Samba da Vela” appears later, continuing the South American travelogue with a trip to Brazil. Guitarist Caio Afune first played with Sands’ brother Ryan, a drummer who studied at the New England Conservatory. Afune has been playing with the pianist for over a year now, finding his voice in the tight-knit ensemble. His solo is an energetic but controlled centerpiece of the performance but becomes even more effervescent when he heads to church.
“Church music is key in not just my sound but most jazz musicians I look up to. It’s a culture that most of us have gone through so it’s embedded in what we do,” says Sands. “Jazz can be a religious experience and for me my playing is my gift to God.” Sands began formal lessons at the age of four but picked up his sense of swing and soul at church well before that. “Sunday Mornings” is Sands tribute to the beginning of the week. He employs soulful clusters of chords and a lackadaisical slide off the beat, aided and embedded by an oscillating organ. The transition to a backyard reggae groove is hip, propelled by Afune’s scratchy accents.
The lilting “Her Song” features bassist Nakamura. “Yasushi has a great bass sound, great facility and is always easy to work with, which is why he’s still in so many other bands today besides mine,” says Sands. Regardless of Nakamura’s schedule, he is fully committed to Sands’ vision of a rhythm section, a noble accent to the sound, unobtrusive but always present. Jennings is equally sensitive. “What I love about Romey” says Sands, “is the soulful intellect he brings to the instrument. There are layers to what he does and that comes from study and practice and also just being him – a true soul brother.”
The album closes with “Rhodes to Meditation” featuring an electrified Sands drifting into the ether. “The Fender Rhodes adds a different tone to my imagination. It makes me hear and play different.” Sands evokes a spectral world without borders, drifting off like a satellite towards the next adventure. “Like all of my albums, I want people to feel connected through a story that I’m telling. On this record, I want to remind people to always push forward and move in positivity.”
Christian Sands, piano
Yasushi Nakamura, bass
Jerome Jennings, drums
Steinway Artist and three-time Grammy Nominee — is an emerging jazz force. His abundant piano technique perfectly matches his conception, accomplishing a much deeper musical goal: a fresh look at the entire language of jazz. Christian says, “My music is about teaching the way of jazz and keeping it alive.” Whether it’s stride, swing, bebop, progressive, fusion, Brazilian or Afro-Cuban, Sands develops the past while providing unusual and stimulating vehicles for the present... and for the future. He expresses himself through an extensive vocabulary of patterns, textures and structures, all the while maintaining a strong sense of understatement, sensitivity, taste and swing — hallmarks for as long as he has been playing.
From a very early age, Christian possessed an insatiable appetite for music. He was enrolled in music classes at age 4 and wrote his first composition at age 5. He started playing professionally at the age of 10, and studied at the Neighborhood Music School and the Educational Center for the Arts in New Haven, CT. He received his Bachelor of Arts and Masters degrees from the Manhattan School of Music. For his participation on the MSM “Kenya Revisited” album, Sands received a Grammy Nominations for Best Latin Piano Solo.
His meteoric rise in the jazz world already includes performances with the legendary Oscar Peterson and Dr. Billy Taylor. He met Dr. Billy Taylor at the Jazz in July program in 2006, and formed an immediate connection. Dr. Taylor dubbed him his protégé, and Christian has followed in his mentor’s footsteps by encouraging, inspiring and advocating for the preservation and history of jazz. He teaches and promotes the passion and richness of jazz to young people as well as to mature audiences. In 2015 he started the Jazz Kids of Montmartre in Copenhagen, Denmark, and he also teaches at Jazz in July, where he is an alumnus.
A deeply rich and soulful feeling can be heard in Christian’s music, characterized by his infectious energy and spirit. It was that same spirit that caught the attention of Grammy award winning bassist, Christian McBride, who asked Sands — then 20 years old — to sit in at the Village Vanguard with his big band, Inside Straight. That appearance led to Sands becoming a member of bassist Christian McBride’s Trio, with whom he has toured throughout the world. Their 2013 CD release, “Out Here,” received a Grammy nomination for Best Jazz Instrumental Album.
Since arriving on the scene, Sands has shared the stage with such jazz luminaries as Wynton Marsalis, Diane Reeves, Shelia E, Warren Wolf, Tia Fuller, Gary Burton, Stefan Harris, Teri Lynne Carrington, Jason Moran, Geri Allen, Ben Williams, Randy Brecker, Steve Johns, Avery Sharpe, James Moody, Bill Evans (sax), Russell Malone, Terrance Blanchard, Louis Hayes, Patti Austin, Marcus Baylor, Craig Handy, Carl Allen, Kirk Whalum, and Wycliffe Gordon.
The power and prowess of his playing has taken him from the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., to the Newport Jazz Festival, Monterey Jazz Festival, Detroit Jazz Festival, Gilmore Jazz Festival (Kalamazoo), Clifford Brown Jazz Festival (Delaware), and the Savannah Music Festival; to New York’s celebrated jazz clubs such as the Village Vanguard, Jazz Standard, Blue Note and Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola; to international jazz clubs in Japan (Blue Note), Germany (A-Train), Russia, Italy, Corsiva, France, Belgium, Denmark and Spain.
Christian provides a soulful melodic touch on S. Epatha Merkerson’s documentary, “Contradictions of Fairhope,” a soundtrack recorded with McBride. Sands was named one of the future rising stars by Wynton Marsalis in Jet Magazine. Vanity Fair’s “Jazz Youth-Quake” also named him as a future jazz star. He was finalist for the 2015 Cole Porter Jazz Fellowship Award sponsored by the America Pianist Association.
An in demand composer and arranger, he appeared on six albums in 2015 as well as releasing two live recordings: Christian McBride Trio “Live at the Vanguard” and his debut recording in Denmark “ Take One” Live at Jazzhus Montmartre Copenhagen with drummer Alex Reil and bassist Thomas Fonnesbaek, which has received national and international rave reviews.
Pianist Christian Sands invents and re-invents himself with sonorities which define each moment, rhythms which impel his music forward, structures which are surprising and fascinating — and never for a moment un-musical. He personifies the rising musicality and spiritual aspirations of a singularly gifted musical soul. “To whom much is given, much is expected.” Christian Sands doesn’t disappoint.
This album contains no booklet.