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Christian Sands: Reach

Dan Bilawsky By

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A lot plays into the success of an artist's reach, with content and presentation obviously ranking high on the list. But above all, an artist has to be willing to extend a hand if they expect listeners to do the same. Many simply reach for the musical stars without really considering the need to reach out to potential audiences through the music. Pianist Christian Sands doesn't fall into that trap. His reach—both up and out—is long and wide, exemplified on this aptly named date.

Despite any potential allusions in the previous paragraph or the titular ideal, Reach doesn't pander to populist tastes or compromise in anyway. It simply has quality material performed at an extremely high level that can appeal to a wide variety of listeners, ranging from the jazz curious to the jazz cognoscenti. If you've found your way to this site and this review, chances are there's something that appeals to you here, whether you fancy yourself a modernist, a traditionalist, a blues adherent, a neo-soul devotee, a post-bop fan, a Latin jazz lover, or something else entirely. Sands manages to craft unique statements that touch on all of the aforementioned topics, often blending or countervailing one with the other within a single song, and once your ear is hooked, that's it.

Reach opens with "Armando's Song," a nod to the great Chick Corea that seems to be cut from the same cloth—or, perhaps, the same vocabulary—as Corea's "Armando's Rhumba." Sands, however, isn't one to plagiarize, and the propulsive swing roller coaster that follows the theme proves that point. A rush of optimism blotting out the face of hate follows that eye-opening number. "Song Of The Rainbow People" speaks to the need for unity and togetherness, both in name and sound. There are hints of gray skies in the mix, but the sun burns the clouds away.

Those opening invitations expose listeners to the tightly-formed trio that's the backbone of this album—Sands, bassist Yasushi Nakamura, and drummer Marcus Baylor—and the three tracks that immediately follow demonstrate how that group reacts to new voices in the mix. Marcus Strickland first spurs the band on with his tenor saxophone on the driven "Pointing West." Then he puts his tenor and bass clarinet to good use on an electro-dusted chill ride dubbed "Freefall." Both numbers find the core band expanding its outlook and adapting to the presence of their guest. The same thing can be said to happen when percussionist Cristian Rivera drops in to add some Latin sizzle to the festive "¡Óyeme!."

The second half of the album is just as inclusive in all respects. "Bud's Tune" pares things back to a trio configuration as Sands salutes bebop pioneer Bud Powell; "Reaching For The Sun" walks on a pseudo-Brazilian groove, carries hints of Corea and Pat Metheny in its DNA, gives Sands a chance to dazzle with his glistening glances, and brings guitarist Gilad Hekselman into the picture for the first of his three consecutive appearances; a cover of "Use Me" retains its Bill Withers-born soulfulness while taking on a new skulking-turned-swinging-turned-skulking rhythmic shape and opening up some space for Christian McBride to bow the truth; and "Gangstalude" injects a hip-hop attitude and foundation into the program. Then Sands ends with what's, perhaps, the biggest surprise of all: a heartfelt performance of "Somewhere Out There" from An American Tail (Amblin Entertainment/Sullivan Bluth Studios, 1986). It opens lyrically and loyally before taking flight in reflective-cum-resounding fashion. It's the last chapter in this tale of many tones, serving as the final indication of Sands' willingness to embrace diversity in sound and scope. Everything and everyone seems to be within his reach.

Track Listing: Armando's Song; Song Of The Rainbow People; Pointing West; Freefall; ¡Óyeme!; Bud's Tune; Reaching For The Sun; Use Me; Gangstalude; Somewhere Out There.

Personnel: Christian Sands: piano; Marcus Baylor: drums; Yasushi Nakamura: bass; Gilad Hekselman: guitar (7-9); Christian McBride: bass (8); Cristian Rivera: percussion (5); Marcus Strickland: tenor saxophone (3, 4), bass clarinet (4).

Title: Reach | Year Released: 2017 | Record Label: Mack Avenue Records

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