Nick Sanders Trio – You Are A Creature (Sunnyside)

By Mike Gates

I can remember as a young boy being taken to the fairground. I guess this happened fairly regularly as a kid, my parents doing their duty with two young boys in need of entertainment on their holidays. One of these trips has always stayed with me… I’m not sure which decaying seaside resort it was, but on this occasion I was allowed to roam the fairground with a few pence in my pocket for good measure. I came across a small red and yellow tent with strange looking puppets hanging from the entrance. An old weathered sign simply read “Piano Man and his Dancing Puppets.” Curiosity getting the better of me, I ventured inside. A whirring sound greeted me as a dimly lit man dressed in black started to play his tiny piano. (Probably actually a harpsichord). As his odd little tunes, trinkets of sound, like the bare bones of magical circus music, played on and on, his creepy puppets from some apocalyptic world danced around his head in circles. I was scared, amused and transfixed all at the same time. His bloodshot eyes stared straight through me as if I was a ghost from another time and place… Actually I made that last bit up… artistic license. Anyway you get the picture. I hadn’t thought about this for many years, until that is, I put on this cd. I’m fairly sure the sleeve art also had something to do with it, but the music here took me back to that day at the fairground.

Nick Sanders; piano, Henry Fraser; bass, and Connor Baker; drums, make up the Nick Sanders Trio. “You Are A Creature” is the follow-up to the 2013 debut “Nameless Neighbors” and is produced by Fred Hersch. Indeed it was pianist Hersch who not only encouraged Sanders to record his debut, but also offered to produce this album. “When you know that Fred Hersch is watching and listening, you have a tendency to deliver at your utmost capabilities.” Sanders describes. “But the best thing about it is just having someone so knowledgeable there to give you feedback. He really understands my music.” Sanders, Fraser and Baker operate a tight unit, unusually for a young trio they seem to have a genuine understanding of how to work creatively together without stepping on each other’s toes. All three were students at New England Conservatory and as a trio they create an interesting alchemy. But then this is no ordinary piano, bass, drums trio… Far from it. Each tune has its own theme running through it, but there’s always an experimental edge, sometimes lingering in a dark corner, sometimes jumping out at you as if it’s been waiting to grab you by the throat. Jekyll and Hyde-like in their make-up, the tunes presented here are at times strange, but always playful and imaginative. Sanders seems to take a sideways look at life through his compositions. As he explains: “The music is very reflective of those different experiences that people go through in their lives. I think that life in and of itself can be like a sideshow.”

What I particularly like about this music is the time and space within the tunes themselves. Who was it who said “It’s not just about the notes, it’s about the spaces in between.”? I can’t remember, but it’s certainly true here. You can feel the electricity within the trio, even in the lingering spaces. Odd time signatures are juxtaposed with stark, gentle melodies that are then beaten down by large grinning jazz hands as the trio work their way through thirteen original pieces. It’s fragmented, beautiful and frustrating in equal measure. “You Are A Creature” is a quirky album that nonetheless showcases a trio with lots of ideas and promise. As the piano man in the fairground tent once said: “We hope you enjoyed your visit, we look forward to seeing you again soon.”