Save for a busy, perhaps too restrained take on The Beatles' "Yesterday" and the predictable South American rhythm driven "Sangueo Soul," Facing Dragons is pianist Christian Sands third powerhouse release in a shade over two years.
Crisply performed by his core trio, bassist Yasushi Nakamura and the untiring Jerome Jennings on drums, Facing Dragons may not explode out at you like last year's Reach, his debut as a leader, or the concussive live energy that spilled over onto the EP Reach Further, but it certainly ups the ante and gives plenty of fuel to those who argue that Sands is the leading pianist of his generation.
Mentored by Dr. Billy Taylor as a teen and recently named creative ambassador to The Erroll Garner Project, Sands, unbridled by the past and hugely aware of all the music around him, brings it all. Colored with clusters of block chords and a bright melody, "Rebel Music," the dynamic and nimble opener, finds the trio locked in synch and quickly setting the tone. Over a tumbling churn, saxophonist Marcus Strickland's deep tone holds front and center until trumpeter Keyon Harold joins the conversation. "Sunday Mornings" features an organic duet with guitarist Caio Afune and a gospel to reggae slide beat that's just exquisite to hear. Jennings is integral here, carrying the tune with a broad, bouncing strut.
"Her Song" is a lyrical, floating dialog between pianist and guitarist, yet Nakamura's resonant suppleness is the central key to the whole affair. "Frankenstein" with its shifts and subtleties may very well call to mind Chick Corea or Herbie Hancock, but there is no imitation going on here. To close the disc, Sands wanders his on Fender Rhodes for the spacey "Rhodes To Mediation" that some might find indulgent, but the recommendation is to just float along with it.
Rebel Music; Fight For Freedom; Yesterday; Sangueo Soul; Sunday Mornings; Frankenstein; Her Song; Samba De Vela; Rhodes To Meditation.
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