by THOMAS JACOBSEN

Hot new pianist Nick Sanders is a New Orleans metro native, NOCCA trained, who went off to the prestigious New England Conservatory for his undergraduate and master’s degrees. Now in his mid-twenties and a New Yorker, he is fast making a name for himself in the jazz world.

Creature is the pianist’s second album, both on the New York-based Sunnyside label, which is widely known for its presentation of unique musical voices.

I have to say that I was struck by the bizarre album cover with its sideshow contortionist on the front and the somewhat off-turning representation of the program on the backside. While one can never tell a book by its cover, the exterior does at least hint at the music that lies within. It, too, is a bit unconventional, yet it certainly cannot be fully digested on first hearing.

Nick Sanders was initially trained in the classics, and that is evident throughout with his superb technique, command of dynamics and, for me, nods to the Impressionists. There can be no doubt, however, about his firm commitment to jazz. He can swing. That is, of course, abetted in no small degree by his talented playmates: bassist Henry Fraser and drummer Connor Baker, both of whom have been with him since their NEC days. Indeed, the three work so well together that the latter two become more than just a rhythm section.

Twelve of the thirteen tracks on Creature are original—and the work of the pianist himself. A variety of moods and emotions are created, often, in fact, in the same piece—and often in surprising, quite unexpected ways. It can be pretty, melodic, pensive, then—unpredictably—strikingly discordant or dissonant. The variability of human emotions seems to be what the pianist is implying in choice of album title (and title track).

Sanders is unique, but, at the same time, a product of his teachers: the influence of the late Alvin Batiste is evident here, as is that of the wonderful pianist Fred Hersch, who also produced both of his albums. Hersch has praised Sanders as a “true original…already world-class and an intriguing and quirky composer as well…” That sums him up pretty well.

If you missed Sanders and his trio in their performance at Snug Harbor on March 27, check this out. I’m sure the group will be back in town in short order.