Essentials: Christian Sands ‘Be Water’ Album Review

The first Essential jazz piano album of the decade was released to extravagant praise in the summer of 2020. Christian Sands, the prodigiously gifted pianist who is barely out of his twenties but with six albums already to his credit, has created a suite of piano pieces entitled Be Water. They are dedicated to exploring the strength and malleability of water.

Christian was inspired by something his martial arts hero Bruce Lee confided in a 2016 interview :

“Empty your mind. Be formless, shapeless, like water. Now, you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.”

Flowing, fierce, controlled, powerful.

There is perhaps no more technically gifted or musically accomplished young pianist on the scene today. Compared with his previous outings, Sands is both more restrained and more powerful on the keyboard with these compositions. The pieces build beautifully, ebbing and flowing like a powerful stream moving onwards to the sea, yet with pools of deep reflection along the way.

A surprising and satisfying addition incorporated into the original material is the cover of the Steve Winwood classic track “I Can’t Find My Way Home”.  Christian renders it up as a shimmering beauty that builds to an overwhelming climax followed by a moving diminuendo.

The string arrangement in “Be Water II” is highly adventurous , with  (to these ears, at least) elements of Arvo Part’s “Fratres” being a distinct influence that complements and strengthens the entire suite. The new complexity to Sand’s composing abilities augurs great things on future outings.

Sands is ably supported by longtime mates Yasushi Nakamura on bass guitar, Marvin Sewell on guitar, and  Clarence Penn on the sticks. Guest musicians include saxophonist Marcus Strickland, trumpeter Sean Jones, and trombonist Steve Davis, with Strickland a true standout with his solo on the title track.

This is contemporary post-bop jazz at its best – inventive, melodic and relentless in its propulsion. Ear-opening listening for all music fans.