“Empty your mind,” Bruce Lee said famously (by way of his friend, screenwriter Stirling Silliphant). “Be formless, shapeless, like water. You put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle … Now water can flow, or it can crash. Be water, my friend.”
Christian Sands, using those words to introduce “Be Water I,” laces the metaphor throughout. I can’t read Sands’ mind, and the quote serves as deliberate mental conditioning, but armed with Lee for philosophy the pianist/composer spends the album mixing, blending, crashing, and flowing both through and around his sidemen and everybody’s ideas. “Be Water I” itself gives us a quiet but forceful stream, underpinned by Yasushi Nakamura on bass and Clarence Penn on drums; but the “I” sets up “Be Water II,” which has the elegance of a Viennese waltz, complete with string quartet (arranged by Miho Hazama).
The title of “Sonar” alludes to peering forward through liquid. Here Sands pushes ahead often, leaving Nakamura to fill in the gaps and Penn to stand off slightly to one side as if dryly amused by the other two. “Drive” opens in several trickles, Sands testing himself alongside guitarist Marvin Sewell’s obstinate staccato, while saxophonist Marcus Strickland is careful to stay modest and soft enough that you lean in to grab what he’s proffering.
“A good martial artist does not become tense, but ready,” Lee expounded in Enter the Dragon (written by Michael Allin). “Not thinking, yet not dreaming. Ready for whatever may come. And when there is an opportunity, I do not hit … It hits all by itself.” Take the fighting advice and transfer it to the yearning for collective consciousness: Sands expands, contracts, finds form in exploration, finds validation.
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