Christian Sands – Facing Dragons

Christian Sands "Facing Dragons"29-year old pianist Christian Sands was part of one of bassist Christian McBride‘s groups, has played on Gregory Porter’s Nat King Cole tribute album recently, and also has recorded a couple of EP albums for the Mack Avenue label, where his new CD has now been released. All of the nine tracks except one Beatles cover were written by this in-demand artist (he’s booked through June of next year) and he forcefully opens up his exciting album with a groove-laden “Rebel Music”, equally rich in suspense and intensity, with bassist Yasushi Nakamura and drummer Jerome Jennings playing vital roles, too.

There are a few guest musicians here to further exploit and describe Christian’s vast array of styles and moods and musings. The trumpet-saxophone parts, imaginatively and exquisitely played by Keyon Harrold and Marcus Strickland respectively, and the guitar accompaniment by Caio Afiune, turn “Fight For Freedom” into one of the highlights of the album with its mixture of warm melodious flights and sort-of angry parts thrown in towards the end. Thankfully, for “Yesterday”, the Beatles classic, he shies away from handling the piece too traditionally, but rather throws in a lot of new nuances, tempos, and showcases his immensely powerful, fast, and elegant playing throughout.

Christian turns Latin on “Sangueo Soul” which had been released as an album teaser and features lively percussion work by Cristian Rivera and Roberto Quintero. Interestingly, it’s on this piece where the ghost of his mentor Billy Taylor shines through the most. I was reminded of Billy’s mid-50s album he recorded with Candido, especially on the piano-percussion battle midway through the piece. For the Gospel/Soul/Reggae/Swing of “Sunday Mornings”, Christian also turns to the Hammond B3 organ in addition to his strong attack on the piano, but the melange of the various styles doesn’t really click. Much more satisfying is the hip and flavor-heavy “Frankenstein”, again with Keyon and Marcus on horns, intermingling loosely with the leader and making sure that the groove stays up-front. There is really a lot to explore on this one.

The slow and tender “Her Song”, with a soulful bass solo by Yasushi and exquisite guitar work from Caio Afiune, is a pretty lyrical tune with a lot of pop sensibilities. I really like the melody of “Samba De Vela”, but not really its time changes, and the album closer “Rhodes To Meditation” to me doesn’t live up to its promise; yes it is very meditative, but I think the Rhodes could have been highlighted much stronger.

Christian is currently playing New York’s Jazz Standard for the record’s release and he will be in Europe in November with stops in Prague (7th), Paris (9th and 10th), Milano (11th), Budapest (12th), Munich (13th), Stuttgart (15th), London (16th and 17th).

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