Bell’s Eccentric Cafe was abuzz and looked a bit different than usual Thursday night. From the sounds of things, it could have been a club in Greenwich Village at any point in the 20th Century — but without the cigarette smoke and with better beer.
The crowd skewed a little older than those who regularly show up for live music here, and the place was set up with rows of folding chairs where a mosh pit might normally be, but the folks were no less delighted and moved by what they came for.
Even Christian Sands, leader of the Christian Sands Trio, the jazz trio who helped kick off this year’s Gilmore Festival, was pleasantly surprised. “When I walked in and saw a Sir Mix-a-Lot poster on the wall, I thought, “They sure they want jazz?” he quipped from the stage, but not until after performing an astounding set.
In little more than an hour, five-time Grammy Award-nominated jazz pianist Christian Sands, stand-up bass player Eric Wheeler, and drummer Jonathan Barber filled the Eccentric Cafe with an inspired performance of their particular soulful riffs on old standards with dynamic jazz and Afro-Cuban influences. At turns upbeat, lively, cool and smooth, they were in utter command through virtuoso solos and stunning runs of melding and moving apart.
Heavily influenced by Chick Corea and John Coltrane, they moved from classic to contemporary, mashing up recognizable little ditties such as “Pop Goes the Weasel” into old standards such as “All of Me” and “I’ll Be Seeing You” as well as playing original compositions from their new album “Reach,” such as “Reaching For the Sun,” a warm, romantic melody with a slight Latin rhythm that shifts into an improvisational feel toward the end. They created something old and new at once.
And their playing was as much a feast for the eyes as for the ears. Sands’ nimble fingers dominated the keyboard of his baby grand downstage right — at turns pouncing, running, leaping, gliding, caressing — making the piano sound like all kinds of things including brass horns and a train. At times, as if to emphasize the move he was making, he’d turn his face to the right, showing himself in profile to the audience who otherwise saw his back and hands on those keys.
Standing center stage, bassist Eric Wheeler elegantly stretched and bent notes at times with a country and blues feel. Drummer Jonathan Barber’s incredibly alive and skillful drumming was a treat in itself, as was the view of his physical and facial contortions.
But what these three created together musically was a thrill. They took turns taking the lead, following and focusing intently on each other and the sounds they were making. They practically lulled the crowd into a trance with their rhythms, building to a climactic frenzy and slowing things down in perfect time.
Indeed, the entire performance was a perfect time in the perfect place. Utterly transcendent.
Christian Sands Trio
Bell’s Eccentric Cafe