A small opus which rises from within, "Intro," unassuming title and all, begins Be Water, a true wealth of music which pianist Christian Sands has designed to flow not only like the awe-inspiring, fear-inducing title element, but like mercy, freely and without boundary.
And so it does. For next is "Sonar," a romping festival of feisty performances from Sands and his core trio of bassist Yasushi Nakamura and drummer Clarence Penn which is meant to assure each other and listeners alike that they're setting out for points as much known as unknown on all cylinders. They're cutting no corners. They'll call upon the masters one moment, (Art Blakey effortlessly and thankfully comes to mind) or they'll push their collective sense of new bop to the margins.
For a little perspective, Facing Dragons (Mack Avenue Records, 2018) was hailed uniformly, by friend and foe alike, to be a wide-ranging master class. Be Water, Sands' fourth release for Mack Avenue Records, goes beyond that, positing new horizons with new promises and new voices brought to the fore. That said, the next voice you hear is Bruce Lee, (yes that Bruce Lee) Buddha-like urging "Be formless, shapeless like water" and thus "Be Water I" takes the shape of expectation driven by Penn's boundless sense of time, Sands' ever more expressive Rhodes, and the entwined front line featuring tenor saxophonist Sean Jones and trombonist Steve Davis.
"Drive" at first takes the shape of edgy 70's jazz/rock as guitarist Marvin Sewell tickles, Sands probes, and Penn holds the tension, before Strickland unapologetically elbows in, only to have all combine for one of those rousing anthems powered to completion by Sewell's stinging, surging solo. Speaking of rock, Steve Winwood's haunting, 1969 Blind Faith classic "Can't Find My Way" goes full gospel with Nakamura at the helm, as Sands unleashes his exuberance for Winwood's mournful melody and Penn crashes away. "Steam" finds the trio at their abstract best. And yes, though for some it might cut a little too close to what was once called new age, Sands' innate and intimate sense of melodic spaciousness holds both him and Sewell in its elegant grasp on the shimmering impressionism of "Still."
Though he really made his debut as leader at thirteen on Footprints (Stanza, 2002), Sands' growth has been exponential, and on full public display since leaving puberty. Be Water is his latest giant step forward, encompassing not only our shared experience and imagination but our humanity too, and that is a triumph no matter what age you are or find yourself in.
Intro; Sonar; Be Water I; Crash; Drive; Steam; Can’t Find My Way Home; Be Water II; Still; Outro.
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