APA Jazz Fellowship, Jazz Kitchen
Saturday, Sept. 26
Christian Sands opened the American Pianists Association Jazz Fellowship Awards Premiere Series with a runaway rendition of Nat Adderley’s “Work Song.”
Since I was sitting far back, with tall people in front of me, I couldn’t see the keyboard, so in reality I’m certain Sands only has two hands, though it felt like he had three to produce the electrifying effect. Working in close unison with bassist Nick Tucker and drummer Kenny Phelps, Sands immediately won over the capacity crowd at the Jazz Kitchen with his clarity and precision amidst the race to the finish. A Steinway artist, a piano was specially brought in for Sands, and its brightness set the tone for the ensuing program that covered the full spectrum of the language of jazz, which Sands defers to as an important aspect of his oeuvre. Sands doodled his way into Ellington’s “Caravan” with respect to the original yet spinning off with cascades of notes before slowing down to inhabit the standard with freshness, a bit of whimsy and a vamp that brought smiles.
Addressing the audience, he conceded, “I know it’s a competition, but we’re having fun,” thus acknowledging Tucker and Phelps. At home with a bassist and a drummer as a member of the widely-traveled Christian McBride Trio, and as a protégé of Dr. Billy Taylor, his meditative to jaunty “Lonesome Lover” was a fitting tribute to his mentor through an arc that meandered its way back to Teddy Castion’s original tune. With “If I Were A Bell,” Sands created a tone poem hinting at the tune through circular motion music box playing, making space for Tucker and Phelps to shine. “Miss Jones” took us into atmospheric outer reaches with Sands plucking the Steinway’s strings with his left hand while his right hand was playing the keyboard. Minimalism gave way to full-tilt “Rogers and Hart with swing,” quipped Sands. “Somewhere Out There” was a delicate dancerly showcase across tempos, allowing the mind to linger on “beneath the pale moonlight someone is thinking of me…” The journey through the film An American Tail appropriately was filled with side excursions before getting back to the main road.
A full attack, “sort of the blues,” “Thrilla in Manilla” was a clear audience favorite and Sands stopped to recognize the applause, promising to send us out into the night with a true blues riff on “Fried Pies.” Sands proved up to Wes Montgomery’s dual demands of crisp, clear single notes against stabs of chords, with Tucker and Phelps right alongside him. We worked up a sweat just listening. The encore of Bill Withers’ “Lean On Me” leant the subtext of Sands’ philosophy as a jazz pianist—he honors the greats, develops his own voice, and passes both along to yet another generation.