New Music by Christian Sands, Walter Smith III, Kneebody and More, in Take Five

Feb 5, 2018

Christian Sands, “J Street”

Last year, pianist Christian Sands released an album aptly titled Reach. Among other things, it was a demonstration of that very idea, showcasing Sands’ flexibilities of intention and style. Now there’s a new EP on the horizon that seems likely to expand the canvas still farther, judging by this track, an exclusive premiere.

As on Reach, “J Street” features Sands’ smart trio with Yasushi Nakamura on bass and Marcus Baylor on drums. They’re swinging bright and brisk, with an alert attunement to some nifty syncopations in the tune. So it’s worth noting that this Thursday, Sands will lead a slightly different trio (with Nakamura and drummer Jerome Jennings) in two sets at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola. Their repertoire will focus on material associated with Erroll Garner, befitting Sands’ new position as creative ambassador and co-producer of the Erroll Garner Jazz Project. (As you may recall, Sands paid sparkling tribute to Garner in a WBGO Yamaha Salon Concert.)

Walter Smith III Trio Featuring Joshua Redman, “On the Trail”

The tenor saxophonist Walter Smith III has a low-key aversion to formality: his debut album, in 2006, was titled Casually Introducing, and his most recent, in 2014, was Still Casual. But you shouldn’t confuse his relaxed air for a lack of intensity. His rewarding new album, TWIO, due out Friday on the British label Whirlwind Recordings, should be all the proof you need. 


The album mainly features a trio with bassist Harish Raghavan and drummer Eric Harland, in the manner of famous albums by Joe Henderson and Sonny Rollins. There’s a deep, untroubled bond between Smith and his rhythm team, as if they have nothing to prove to anyone, not least themselves. That remains true in this version of “On the Trail,” a movement from Ferde Grofé’s Grand Canyon Suite, with a prominent guest turn by Joshua Redman. The repartee between tenormen feels companionable, surefooted and mutually admiring. (Hear how Smith picks up the baton at 2:35.) It isn’t at all combative, or even competitive; these musicians simply have too much chill for that.

Jamie Saft, “Naima”

You may know keyboardist Jamie Saft as a fearless experimentalist or an committed hybridist, and both of those characterizations are true. His new acoustic concert album, Solo a Genova, just out on the RareNoise label, puts him forward in a somewhat different light.

True, the album includes a version of “Sharp Dressed Man,” by ZZ Top. But it also addresses American ballads by Bob Dylan and Stevie Wonder, with an abiding focus on harmony and beauty. Listen closely to the rippling composure he brings to this rubato interpretation of “Naima,” the John Coltrane composition. Saft has been making albums for 25 years, and this is his first solo piano release. Let’s hope we won’t have to wait so long for a sequel.

Kneebody + Inara George, “How High”

It’s no secret that Kneebody has the right stuff to make a singer sound better. The band has collaborated with vocalists ranging from Theo Bleckmann to Busdriver, but this track — featuring Inara George, of The Bird and the Bee — stakes out different territory. 

An expression of romantic devotion, it has a dreamlike harmonic drift but an insistent rhythmic premise. The song, which came together as George sang lyrics over a guitar part by Kaveh Rastegar, maintains a blissful air, but with a hook: the singer sounds as if she’s in the grip of something powerful. This is the first in a series of artist collaborations that Kneebody will be releasing in the near future, and the project is off to an intoxicating start.

Kokoroko, “Abusey Junction”

The London-based label Brownswood Recordings has just released We Out Here, a compilation of music from its roster, including jazz artists like saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings and drummer Moses Boyd. The clip above is an intimate live version of the closing track, “Abusey Junction.” It’s a more cooled-out vibe than usual for Kokoroko, an Afrobeat ensemble led by trumpeter Sheila Maurice-Grey. But the soulful vocal blend and ruminative cadence are worth settling into for a spell.