From Nick Sanders Trio's "Playtime 2050" (3/15/2019) on Sunnyside Records.
On Playtime 2050, the third release by his inventive trio, pianist/composer Nick Sanders looks to the future with a unique combination of imaginative complexity and dark humor. Due out March 15 via Sunnyside, the album presents the latest evolution of Sanders’ singular voice which blends influences from a wide swath of jazz history with concepts from contemporary classical music and the composer’s offbeat perspective.
Once again, Sanders is joined by bassist Henry Fraser and drummer Connor Baker. Where earlier outings supplemented Sanders’ distinctive compositions with aptly-chosen pieces by such heavily influential composers as Herbie Nichols, Thelonious Monk and Ornette Coleman, Playtime 2050 consists entirely of originals, a diverse repertoire ranging from entirely through-composed pieces to free improvisations, solo piano meditations to raucous swing tunes, tender ballads to prepared piano explosions.
“I like working with different extremes,” Sanders says. “When I reflect on the spirit of jazz or improvised music, the greatest musicians always pushed the music forward, looked in a forward direction. A lot of modern jazz is very much stuck in the past, so I’m trying to draw on my experiences and do something different.”
To set the mood, Sanders returned to the work of New Mexico-based artist Leah Saulnier, the self-described “Painting Maniac” whose painting of a sideshow contortionist also graced the cover of the trio’s last release, You Are a Creature (2014). Her unsettling “Playtime 2050,” which gave the album its name, depicts an adorable dystopia, with a young girl in pigtails and gasmasks cuddling a similarly accoutered stuffed bunny.
“When I first saw the image,” Sanders recalls, “I 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.”
That notion resonated not just with Sanders’ own views on the modern socio-political reality, but with his forward-looking take on jazz. It also runs parallel to an optimistic view of the place of art in the world. No matter how dark things get, it seems to suggest, there’s always the escape of play – whether that means spending time with a favorite toy or taking the stage with close collaborators.
The painting’s dark humor also captures a key element of Sanders’ own music, a thread that can be traced back to the wry, puckish playfulness of the iconic Thelonious Monk. The sharp, jaunty angles of album opener “Live Normal” bear traces of Monk’s influence, while the title comes from a line spoken by Steven Avery, the subject of the hit docuseries Making a Murderer. While Sanders’ own story is far from that of Avery’s, the desire to “live normal” is one that every outcast might feel at some point in their life.
- Jazz & Blues