by Ian Mann
November 26, 2021
It was evident that this was a trio that was right on top of its game, both individually and collectively.
Christian Sands Trio, Livestream from Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club, Soho, London 13/11/2021
(part of EFG London Jazz Festival).
Christian Sands – piano & keyboard, Marco Panascia – double bass, Ryan Sands – drums
Having extensively covered ten editions of the EFG London Jazz Festival from 2010 to 2019 inclusive, plus the all digital event in 2020, it was a source of great disappointment that due to Covid related reasons my wife and I were unable to attend the 2021 Festival in person.
During our previous visits accommodation has very kindly been provided by my brother in law and his partner. This year they were understandably reticent about hosting us. Having exercised caution themselves for the last eighteen months or so they were justifiably reluctant to take in a couple of guests who would be rushing around all over the city on the ‘Tube’ and visiting multiple crowded music venues. We fully understand and respect their decision. With ten nights of hotel bills beyond our modest budget we reluctantly had to stay home this year.
Nevertheless I was still very much at the Festival ‘in spirit’ and for the second year running will be taking a look at some of the online content.
This performance by the American pianist and composer Christian Sands was the second of two sold out sets at Ronnie Scott’s that took place on Saturday 13th November 2021. Footage of this hugely enjoyable show can still be found on the EFG London Jazz Festival website here;
I first encountered Sands’ playing at the 2013 EFG LJF when he appeared at Ronnie’s as part of a trio led by bassist and composer Christian McBride and featuring drummer Ulysses Owens Jr.
The trio gave an exceptional performance and my review of that event can be found as part of my Festival coverage here;
At that time Sands was twenty four and was considered as something of a rising star, his brilliance inviting the soubriquet of “the Young Oscar Peterson”. His prodigious technique was already apparent and during the intervening years he has emerged as a bandleader and composer of note with three acclaimed albums for the Mack Avenue label emerging in recent years, “Reach” (2017), “Facing Dragons” (2018) and “Be Water” (2020).
Something of a child prodigy Sands recorded his first album aged just thirteen and had already released four albums under his own name by the time he linked up with McBride. As a sideman he has also recorded with vocalist Gregory Porter, amongst numerous others.
Born in 1989 in New Haven, Connecticut the young Sands was mentored by Dr. Billy Taylor before going on to study at the Manhattan School of Music, joining McBride’s band Inside Straight immediately after graduation.
Since appearing with the McBride trio Sands has made subsequent Festival appearances with his own bands at both Ronnie’s and at the Pizza Express Jazz Club on Dean Street. Although I’ve always been keen to see him leading his own groups I’ve always contrived to miss him due to other commitments on the Festival programme. At least this year’s enforced non-attendance allowed me to catch up with the Sands trio at last, albeit online only.
These two Saturday night shows at Ronnie’s were the final performances of a European tour and Sands and his colleagues were clearly determined to have some fun and to bow out on a high. The pianist was accompanied by his younger brother Ryan Sands on the drums and the Sicilian born Marco Panascia on double bass. Christian’s recent recordings have typically featured larger groups but the intimate, more adaptable format of the piano trio was ideally suited to tonight’s performance.
The programme featured a mix of Sands originals, all from the recent “Be Water” album, a smattering of jazz standards and the occasional surprise, which we’ll come to later.
Things kicked off with “Sonar”, a track from the “Be Water” album that has also been released as a single. This was an episodic, multi-faceted composition that featured Christian deploying a mix of acoustic and electric keyboard sounds, the latter generated by a small synthesiser on top of the piano, the electronic noises mirroring the title of the piece. Later the piece switched into more conventional jazz piano trio mode as the music gathered momentum, with the sound of Panascia’s bass often coming to the fore. Christian’s prodigious technique became evident in a dazzling acoustic piano solo that combined cascading right hand runs with powerful left hand rhythmic figures, all this fuelled by Panascia’s fluid but propulsive bass lines and Ryan’s crisp drumming, the latter featuring strongly towards the close.
“Be Water Part 1”, taken from the aquatically themed album, saw no letting up in terms of energy levels. Their musical senses honed by a spell on the road this was a fiercely interactive trio, the verve and intensity of their playing sometimes reminding me of the much missed Phronesis. Panascia took the first solo, his playing both highly melodic and hugely dexterous. Christian’s own solo was an appropriately torrential outpouring of ideas that found me scribbling down the name of McCoy Tyner as a potential source of influence.
Christian proved to be a confident interlocutor between tunes and quickly established a warm rapport with the crowd, and particularly with the young ladies in the audience! He was informative too, telling us that the tune “Crash” from the “Be Water” album was inspired by the crashing of the waves on the beach in his native Connecticut. But the inspiration went deeper than this, the merging of sea and shore finds each giving and taking from the other, a parallel he drew with human encounters and relationships, and one all the more relevant in the current circumstances.
At the 2020 EFG LJF I reviewed a number of livestreams from empty venues. The music, sound and visuals were all good but there was something missing – the reaction of a live audience. I may have been far removed from this gig in terms of both place and time – I caught up with it nearly two weeks later – but could still appreciate the frisson of a genuine live performance. The sense of love between Sands and his audience was palpable.
Musically “Crash” combined acoustic and electric sounds and power with lyricism to genuinely anthemic effect, with Panascia and Christian Sands both featuring as soloists.
As if echoing my earlier thoughts the first ‘outside’ item of the set proved to be a playful arrangement of the McCoy Tyner composition “Blues On The Corner”, which commenced with an impish series of piano and drum exchanges between the Sands brothers, with Panascia later joining in on bass. Panascia eventually set up a walking bass line that helped to fuel an acoustic piano solo that combined the improvisational fluency of Keith Jarrett with the power of Tyner or Cecil Taylor. A further piano / drum dialogue then emerged, followed by another barnstorming piano solo from Christian.
The trio continued to draw upon the jazz tradition with an arrangement of the Duke Ellington tune “The Star Crossed Lovers”, itself inspired by Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet”. This featured an extensive solo introduction from Christian that included electronically generated bird song and the judicious use of live looping as the synth was deployed to create an atmospheric backdrop for the acoustic piano. Thus far this was proving to be a very contemporary take on Ellington but the subsequent addition of double bass and brushed drums steered the music into more conventional jazz ballad territory, with melodic, lyrical solos coming from Christian on acoustic piano and Panascia on double bass.
The final tune of the set was the surprise, a bluesy, gospel favoured interpretation of the Steve Winwood song “Can’t Find My Way Home”, a composition originally written for the short lived ‘supergroup’ Blind Faith. Hailing Winwood as “a badass” Christian declared that the trio would “put our own thing on it”. This they duly did with Panascia taking the first solo on double bass, combining a huge tone with an innate melodic sense, even squeezing in a quote from Gershwin’s “Summertime”. Christian’s solo was a masterclass in the building and release of tension as his solo built to an inevitable climax, to the obvious delight of the audience.
The richly deserved encore was a version of Charlie Parker’s bebop classic “Anthropology”, introduced by a bravura passage of solo double bass from the consistently impressive Panascia, a musician I last heard way back in 2006 when he a member of a group led by the Italian drummer and composer Paolo Lattanzi. Following this brilliant start the trio tore into the piece with gusto, with both of the Sands brothers enjoying features before the close.
Even though I was viewing remotely I thoroughly enjoyed this performance. Christian Sands is clearly fulfilling the potential that he displayed with McBride and he has also matured into an accomplished and imaginative composer. An inspired piano soloist he was well supported by Marco Panascia and Ryan Sands, both of who made hugely impressive contributions. As they came to the end of their European tour it was evident that this was a trio that was right on top of its game, both individually and collectively.
blog comments powered by Disqus