Spring Edition 2015, By James Rozzi.
With his forward-leaning trio of bassist Henry Fraser and drummer Connor Baker, New Orleans-born pianist Nick Sanders has culled a set of music as mysterious as the CD’s title. Tradition goes by the wayside, particularly when it comes to odd meters, rapidly changing tonalities and stretched-out song forms. With this younger generation of jazz musicians, the 32-bar song form is all but dead. Sanders and company take additional liberties with through-composed music that propel them even further into the realm of individuality.
Some pieces end in the midst of improvised sections rather than with recapitulations of the song’s written melody. On others, Sanders reverses normal rhythmic accents and patterns in his accompaniments – think of a doorbell that rings “dong-ding” or a march accentuating the right foot with “chick-boom.” Small twists like these render Sanders’ sophomore CD, produced by esteemed pianist Fred Hersch, slightly askew but nonetheless catchy.
Although the trio sometimes swings in the traditional sense, more often, the music is either jagged or ethereal. Echoing the album’s cover image,“Red Panda” has a circus feel that showcases Baker’s unconventional approach to jazz drumming. Using his drum kit as a percussion pit, Baker seldom rides a cymbal, often beats drum rims, and tunes his lower drums very loosely, to the point of having drum heads rattle.
Weaving in and out of tonal centers with a casualness that belies extreme dexterity, Sanders sometimes meanders into the realm of musical tongue-in-cheek. Also chuckle-worthy is the fact that the most straightahead and swinging song here is Ornette Coleman’s “The Blessing.” All others are Sanders originals – and original they are.
Regretfully, solos by Baker and the obviously talented bassist Fraser are minimal. Likely, this will change as the trio continues to explore their repertoire on the bandstands of some intimate New York clubs.