Nick Sanders Trio: You Are A Creature (Sunnyside)

By: Richard Kamins

Nick Sanders hails from New Orleans, a fertile ground for pianists. While attending the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, MA, as a grad student, Sanders met freshmenConnor Baker (drums) andHenry Fraser (bass), beginning an association that now has lasted 5 years.  The Trio’s 2013 debut, “Nameless Neighbors” (Sunnyside), not only displayed Sanders’ maturity as a composer but also the intimacy of an ensemble. Produced by Fred Hersch, the recording showed musicians with great promise.

You Are A Creature” (Sunnyside) builds on that promise.  In the 2 years since the debut CD, the Trio has developed an even closer bond and Sanders’ writing has matured considerably.  There’s a healthy streak of Thelonious Monk in his approach to melody and rhythm yet, like that great master, the music opens to include elements of the history of piano, from stride to blues to swing and beyond.  And, as on the debut disc, the rhythm section is so attuned to the movement of the music, to the pianist’s playful asides or rollicking single-note runs, that there are multiple instances where the listener can believe these 3 breathe as one.

With Fred Hersch back as producer (he also worked with Sanders at NEC), “…Creature” is its own universe.  Ballads rub shoulders with quirky, up-beat, romps, melodies grow from rhythmic figures, and the line between composition and improvisation is nearly invisible.  “Let’s Start” is the aptly-titled opening track and, before the first minute goes by, the listener knows this music will be worth investigating.  The best creative music sounds familiar and new at the same time, with phrases that remind you on something you’ve heard many times but on to someplace new before you can put your mental finger on where you have heard this before. “Wheelchair” has echoes of Chick Corea (acoustic Return to Forever) in the child-like melody yet the rhythm section decides to keep the piece grounded while Sanders floats above. There is a circular quality to the melody of “Round You Go” yet listen to how Baker creates his own world underneath (while Fraser provides the framework.)   The title track romps out of the gate and then stops abruptly for a quiet interlude, going back to romp into a piano solo and excellent drum spotlight before melting down to a soft landing.  One can hear this is music that could only have developed in a live setting as well as a setting of complete trust. The CD closes with Ornette Coleman’s “The Blessing“, a gentle yet propulsive reading of one of his earlier pieces (you can really hear the influence of Monk and John Lewis on Coleman’s composition.)

You Are A Creature” is no monster but the musical interactions do, in some ways, reflect the contortionist in Leah Saulnier’s cover painting.  Playful, adventurous, original, the music of the Nick Sanders Trio illustrates the continuing evolution of American music and the endless possibilities of the piano trio. One really would love to hear and see this Trio in a club setting. Kudos as well to engineer James Farber, who brilliantly captures the sounds of each musician, especially the impressive drumming of Connor Baker.