Christian Sands, Facing Dragons

by Sylvannia Garutch

Born in 1989, pianist Christian Sands grew up in New Haven, Connecticut, and later moved to the nearby Orange. He started playing the piano at a very young age and took lessons from the age of four; he states, “I grew up with it in the house, in the classroom and on stage so it has always been a huge part of my life.”

Sands was mentored by pianist Billy Taylor, who allowed the teenager to close one of the sets that Taylor played at the Kennedy Center.  Sands went on to study at the Manhattan School of Music. The school’s Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra, led by Bobby Sanabria, recorded the album Kenya Revisited Live in 2009; it was nominated for a Latin Grammy.  After graduating, Sands joined Inside Straight, one of bassist Christian McBride’s bands.

Sands became a Steinway artist in 2012 and in 2014, Sands cited as influences McBride, Wynton Marsalis, Kenny Garrett, and Marcus Roberts, he noted “They’re coming from the tradition of bringing people into the music, but also moving it forward into new directions.” In the same year, Sands became an American Pianists Association Jazz Fellowship Awards Finalist.

His upcoming album Facing Dragons, on Mack Avenue Records set to release in September of 2018 is an amalgamation of Latin and straight-ahead jazz idioms all layed down with Sands soulful stylings.

“Sangueo Soul” finds Sands, Nakamura and Jennings augmented by Caio Afiune on guitar, Cristian Rivera on percussion and Roberto Quintero on Venezuelan indigenous percussion (cumaco, clarin, laures, maracas). The track opens with a rhythmic celebration by Rivera and Jennings. The Caribbean and South American flavored rhythms are the focal point for Sands to expound the melody with. Weaving in and out of various sections, all expertly played by Sands. His octave soloing is especially a treat. Quintero plays with Sands at key points of the melody throughout the form, which lends even more of a Caribbean vibe to the track. Even though this is certainly based in the South American sounds, Sands gospel roots are still easily heard as he spins out his chordal and single line vocabulary throughout the solos sections with grace and elegance.

Sands finds inspiration in the pop world too as he tackles the Beatles’ “Yesterday.” Set to an easy stroll tempo, the trio gracefully approaches the melody. Sands harmonic approach is striking as usual, but the real beauty of this track is the chemistry between bassist Yasushi Nakamura and drummer Jerome Jennings. These players have been relentlessly touring with Sands and as a result, the three are sensitive to each other’s needs and locked in sync rhythmically.  The subtleties on this tune are a real joy to listen to and Sands is an expressive player.

Each release catapults Sands creativity to expansive heights.  His maturity is deepening with each release. Not even 30 years old, his command of his instrument is breathtaking.  Even the title itself Facing Dragons eludes to personal growth, one can certainly hear this within the grooves of the album and in the dexterity of Sands playing.

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