Nick Sanders Trio, Playtime 2050 (Sunnyside)

The cover of the Nick Sanders Trio’s third album, if you’re not already looking at it, features a little girl and her stuffed companion, both of whom are wearing gas masks. It’s a jarring image to be sure, especially since the title is ostensibly about life in the future. But dystopias are not on Sanders’ mind—he’s looking at the possible future of jazz, specifically what happens when the lines get blurred between jazz and classical, modal and harmonic, mainstream and experimental, solo and group, written pieces and pure improvisation. In the past, the Trio has been compared to Ornette Coleman, Thelonious Monk and Herbie Nichols, but here it’s all about those jarring juxtapositions—like, say, a stuffed rabbit wearing a gas mask.

Many of these songs lurch fearlessly between not only moods but also tempos and arrangements. “The Number 3” may be the most jarring example: wild waves of cacophony broken up with a main theme of manic triplets, pausing, backtracking, and ducking out when least expected. “Manic Maniac” perfectly describes drummer Connor Baker’s role: crashing right behind Sanders’ piano, he sounds like he’s interpreting a madman. Two prepared-piano pieces reflect the duality of this album’s nature, both done with finishing nails slipped between the piano strings a la John Cage: “Prepared for the Blues” (get it?) is so evocative of empty city streets it’s practically film noir, but “Prepared for the Accident” swings all the way in the other direction, exploring the piano as percussive instrument. But lest this scare you off, you can relax in the calmer waters of the perfect post-bop title track or the stately, elegiac “#2 Longfellow Park.”