O ho, yet another piano trio CD in a season filled with them. “Nameless Neighbors” (Sunnyside Records) is the debut recording from the Nick Sanders Trio. New Orleans-native Sanders is a graduate of the New England Conservatory of Music (NEC) where he studied with Danilo Perez, George Garzone, Cecll McBee, Jason Moran, Jerry Bergonzi and John McNeil (not a shabby crew of people to learn from and work alongside.) Fred Hersch produced the sessions that resulted in these 13 tracks (including 2 solo piano cuts) – Sanders composed 10 of the pieces and chose 3 smart covers, including “‘Orse at Safari” (Herbie Nichols), “Manganese” (Thelonious Monk, also titled “Wee See” or “We See”) and “I Don’t Want To Set the World On Fire” (a 1941 hit by The Inkspots). One can hear the influence of the Crescent City in Sanders’s composing, especially on “New Town” (in the fiery opening section) and “Dome Zone” (one of the solo piano pieces.) It’s not overt but can be detected in the rhythmic movement of the piano lines.
There are numerous reasons why this recording stands out, not the least of which is the rhythm section. Bassist Henry Fraser and drummer Connor Baker (both currently NEC students) play with great fire and sensitivity that belies their relative youth. They certainly can swing (“Row 18, Seat C” is the best example of the “driving” quality of the 2) but the composer is always throwing them curves, “stop-on-a-dime” tempo shifts and changes in dynamics. Their work on the title track illustrates how the musicians are listening to each other as they navigate the changes. After a soft, introspective solo piano intro, “Motor World” races forward on “motor rhythm” in Sanders’ left hand and Baker’s propulsive snare drum. In the middle, there is a “free” section held in check by Fraser’s stout bass work. Nothing feels sloppy or out of place.
There’s a sense of playfulness in “Hymn” and “Flip” that builds from the pianist’s desire to move away from the tried-and-true. The former literally leaps away from its solemn opening section while the latter starts at a sprightly pace only to slow down within 45 seconds for a quiet bass solo. Fraser’s pleasing bass is also featured on “Simple” – he goes it alone for the first 3 minutes of the track (which is the longest on the program at 6:43) drawing he listener in on the strength of his melodic sense and rich tones. Sanders’ melody and solo draw on the song’s title, with the falling notes like a spring shower.
“Nameless Neighbors” joins the parade of excellent piano trio CDs issued in 2013 (other examples being the new Joey Calderazzo “Live” also on Sunnyside, “Pascal’s Triangle” by Pascal Le Boeuf, the debut CD by Myriad3 and the new Noah Haidu on PosiTone). These CDs may have the same figuration but are all quite different and all enjoyable. The Nick Sanders Trio is young but, judging by the original works on this debut, the leader is already a formidable composer and arranger as well as an impressive pianist. And, the rhythm section is also mighty impressive. Be sure to pay attention to the cover photograph by Alejandro Cartagena – it, too, has great power. For more information, go to nicksandersmusic.com.