Nick Sanders Trio: You Are A Creature (Sunnyside)

By Dan Bilawsky

It’s sad to say, but many newly-formed piano trios tend to suffer by comparison before they ever get off the ground. So many of these groups consciously or unwittingly walk along well-trod paths, referencing legendary jazz figures or following trails of sonic breadcrumbs dropped by latter day lodestars like Brad Mehldau, The Bad Plus, or Jason Moran, to name a few. But despite that fact, there’s always hope and there are always a rare few artists who manage to contribute something fresh through this format. For example, take pianist Nick Sanders.

The second album from the Nick Sanders Trio is quirky yet beautiful, esoteric yet accessible, and unhinged yet totally organized. Threads unravel and then sew themselves back into place, playful discourse leads to more serious matters, and straight sight lines are quickly replaced by peripheral vision. Sanders’ songs are built with angular lines, clustered chords, tilted themes, dissonance-peppered consonance and its inverse, tiptoeing gestures, and heavy-handed displays. There’s mayhem (“Repeater”), mirth and merriment (“Round You Go”), and mystery in this music, but there’s more than that. When you look at the sum total of this work—Sanders’ twisted visions, caliginous constructs, lighthearted gestures, and weighty thoughts—you see honesty, integrity, and artistry guided by personal expression. In art, be it musical or otherwise, that’s more valuable than gold.

The bonds that exist between Sanders, bassist Henry Fraser, and drummer Connor Baker are strong. They each provide accents and punctuation (“Let’s Start”), they wind through the music as a single unit (“Wheelchair”), and they manage to work a woozy angle while pulling in and out each other’s orbit(s) (“Red Panda”). Further down the line, they marry the eerie with the thought-provoking (“Zora The Cat”) and bring interest to relatively sedate matters (“Day Zombie”). Sanders and his band mates don’t reinvent the wheel here, but they do give it a personal redesign.

Track Listing: Let’s Start; Wheelchair; Red Panda; Round You Go; Room; You Are A Creature; Carol’s Kid; Zora The Cat; Repeater; Keep On The Watch; Peculiar People; Day Zombie; The Blessing.