I need to talk about this album Be Water by jazz pianist Christian Sands. Where to even begin. Let's start at the beginning. The album opens up to a beautifully melancholic yet hopefully adventurous voyage of what is to come. This is a jazz album, but Christian Sands is not boxed in by that label to present his vision of it. With the use of nature sounds like water, birds, canoe oars, laced into several tracks, it adds a depth of life, and an organic quality with every note produced.
The intro again opens up with the cello playing a beautiful melody. The piano accompaniment played like elegy, can bring out a raw emotion rarely felt. You are taken on a journey of sound, wonderfully complex and simple at the same time. The album as a whole is deeply philosophical yet the more I listen to it, the more I hear Christian put his heart and soul into every line.
The album is based off this idea of being like water. The saying "be like water" famously said by Bruce Lee. Indeed Christian even places an audio excerpt of Bruce Lee saying this line from tv series Longstreet. The saying however is based on the Chinese concept of wu-wei. Wu-wei is, if I may quote, "the cultivation of a state of being in which our actions are quite effortlessly in alignment with the ebb and flow of the elemental cycles of the natural world. It is a kind of “going with the flow” that is characterized by great ease and awareness, in which—without even trying—we’re able to respond perfectly to whatever situations arise.(1)" This is absolutely embodied in this album. Each track ripples and flows from one musical idea to another effortlessly. With measures full of space to measures packed full of musical content. Take for example the track Be Water I, after Bruce Lee is done with his monologue, the horns come in to announce the start of the music. When the rhythm section comes in, the musical landscape opens up to this beautiful picture in ones mind of a pond. Imagine you are in a beautiful forest somewhere meditating in front of a pond and you open your eyes. One cannot help being in awe contemplating the mystery of water. Now for a rant!
I'd just like to note how easy for us it is to dismiss everyday nature we experience. We may easily reason the phenomena of water away by saying that it's just H2O, it's just water. This album Be Water, can be taken as a reminder, "to think lightly of yourself but think deeply about the world" as Miyamoto Musashi said, the 17th century military thinker who wrote the book, Dokkōdō or The Path of Aloneness. Nature, if we are receptive to it, can teach us many lessons about ourselves and about the world. To have grasped a concept and be complacent in that knowledge means we are not on the right path. The American spirit is imbued with that of independence. Other cultures don't have this spirit. The spirit of independence was born when the pilgrims set foot on the American land. The point of this is, the majority of us want things to go our way. We want or rather NEED to be in control of our lives and if things don't go our way well look out! We do everything in our power to exact retribution and have our way. There is much wisdom then to adopting and practicing being like water in our modern world. The truth is, we are not as in control as we may think. We are mostly blind when it comes to all the political, sociological, biological, psychological, and spiritual influences that effect us every minute of the day. Instead of fighting with that tumult of emotion when things don't go as they "should" we can be like water. We can empty our mind, be formless, shapeless, like water. Now you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle it becomes the bottle. You put water into a tea pot, it becomes the tea pot. Now water can flow or it can crash. Be water my friend.
There are self-help and philosophical books which you can download and listen to and you may not even remember what it was talking about or implement the advice. This short little excerpt speaks volumes when accompanied with the music. This gives the music purpose. The purpose to edify and uplift us in a profound way. Something that we can adopt and live by and make our lives better. With this purpose grounding the music, it's no longer abstract intellectual music which musicians can sometimes make it out to be. It imbues wisdom in the music. And we all need a little wisdom in our lives.
Check out this album Be Water. When you listen to it, think about these things. Allow yourself to contemplate what it means to be like water as you listen to it. In the process maybe you will discover something about yourself or the world. This is the power music.
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(1)Elizabeth Reninger, Wu-Wei The Taoist Principle of Action in Non-Action