Nick Sanders’ Trio Explores “Playtime 2050”


PLAYTIME 2050 / SANDERS: Live Normal. Manic Maniac. Playtime 2050. Prepared for the Blues. Still Considering. The Number 3. Interlude for S.L.B. Endless. It’s Like This. Hungry Ghost. RPD. Prepared for the Accident. #2 Longfellow Park / Nick Sanders Trio: Sanders, pno; Henry Fraser, bs; Connor Baker, dm / Sunnyside Communications SSC 1537

The bizarre cover for this album, which reflects its title, can be taken two ways: as a somewhat serious projection of what the artists think our world will actually be like in 2050, which is about as far from reality as the presumption that we’ll be colonizing Mars, or as a satirical comment on what others think our world will be like in 2050. Nick Sanders’ own statement that he “found it really interesting and weird, not to mention starkly different from any artwork I’ve seen in the jazz world. I liked its tongue in cheek look at the state of the world today, with the silver lining being that it’s clearly about surviving,” suggests to me that it’s a darkly humorous view of what he, and the artist, think is actually going to happen. (Real science interjection: It’s not. In case you missed it, astronomers have found a monstrous hole in our sun, the size of nine Earths, which is keeping it from spitting out enough solar flares to warm our planet. The bottom line from real climate scientists is that we’re headed for a mini-Ice Age. So take off your gas masks and start warming the planet up a little. We’re going to need it.)

Aside from this, the music contained herein is really excellent and interesting. Like much modern jazz today, the tempi are amorphic and sometimes difficult to follow. Sanders’ compositions are largely tonal, but take interesting harmonic sidesteps. He also uses shifting tempi within each piece, which makes the music sound almost like a suite. Indeed, there are classical references throughout his music; Live Normal suggests a through-composed piece with perhaps improvised passages in the turnarounds but mostly written out.

Manic Maniac also uses shifting rhythms, but the very opening sounds Latin in feeling, which Sanders acknowledges came from his Cuban mother. The Latin feel returns, but only with the tempo broken into shards and shifting like some split-personality piece by Jaki Byard. Sanders even throws in a few Cecil Taylor-isms for good measure, just to stir up the pod a bit. A maniacal piece indeed!

After these first two numbers, Playtime 2050 starts out like a straightahead swing piece. Except for a few measures of relaxed out-of-tempo passages, it stays that way for some time. A few of the passages Sanders plays here reminded me a little of simplified Professor Longhair, the New Orleans Caribbean-influenced jazz-rock legend who played his piano like a set of tuned steel drums. Prepared for the Blues is a slow number, also in a more regular tempo and closer to “regular” blues changes than one might have expected. His talented rhythm section supports him beautifully here as elsewhere.

Still Considering is a slow piece in which Sanders plays a tongue-in-cheek tune that keeps halting as if it wasn’t sure where it was going. Although a more conventionally tonal piece, its ambiguous progression is difficult to describe; you just have to hear it to understand what I mean. In The Number 3, he and the rhythm section play wild, wacky figures that made me think of some of Anthony Braxton’s work (I was happy to see that the publicity sheet for this CD confirmed my impression). Once again, the manic pace is interspersed with slower sections, and at the midway point a really bizarre passage in which the music is deconstructed into little shards of notes, almost like a shorthand version of the already terse opening statement. (From a pianistic standpoint, this also reminded me of some of Paul Bley’s pieces from the mid-1960s.)

Interlude for S.L.B. is a solo piano tribute to Sanders’ Cuban-born mother, though it contains less Latin references than did Manic Maniac. In fact, it is a quiet piece that, in its own way, also hesitates in its melodic progression as if Sanders were thinking things over as he played. Endless is a broken tune that almost sounds like a schizophrenic version of Thelonious Monk, with Connor Baker’s drums quite prominent in the background. The frenetic, broken melody line is interspersed with softer, slower interludes. By contrast, It’s Like This is a gentle tune with a rocking-chair kind of rhythm that develops nicely.

Hungry Ghost is a tune that seems to combine a lot of features from the others: an amorphous melodic line, changing rhythms, and a beat that sounds like a cross between Latin and Professor Longhair. It does, however, also include a really eerie bowed bass solo by Henry Fraser that probably alludes to the “ghost” in the title. RPD is a slow, mysterious piece that opens with soft bass drum and cymbal playing, followed by Sanders’ piano ruminating in sparse, single-note lines. As it progresses, the rhythm seems to be moving backwards or, at least, opposite to the rhythm being played by the pianist.

Prepared for the Accident starts off with some really strange sounds that appear to be Fraser playing very high up on the neck of his bass and Baker playing either the bass or the rims of his drums with his sticks. Indeed, it’s more of a percussion piece until Sanders enters at the 1:45 mark, but even then it stays in percussion mode until 2:23 when the pianist plays some atonal licks against the roiling backdrop. The program ends, however, with a soft, lovely, tonal piano solo on #2 Longfellow Park, at least until bowed bass and delicate cymbal work comes in behind Sanders about halfway through.

A very interesting and creative CD of new music by an evidently gifted pianist-composer and his trio.

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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