A man is standing in the middle of the city while the traffic passes by. Eyes half closed. Tie blowing in the air. Later there's a change of scene. The man is now inside an apartment and he is standing in front of a window. Eyes totally closed.
The man is the young jazz pianist and composer Josh Nelson and the scenes described are the cover photographs for his debut, Let It Go.
Nowadays, music is all around us. Actually, it's everywhere. Even if we wanted to, we couldn't avoid it, and let's face it, sometimes music becomes noise. Background noise. But then there's the music that soothes the soul and eases the mind into contemplation. Music that somehow has the ability to draw a beautiful line around silence allowing the listener to forget the noise from all around. That's the kind of music Josh Nelson makes.
The program on Let It Go is varied, going from introspective ballads to electrified modern grooves, attempts at neo-standards and revisions of classic pop tunes, but overall the mood of the album is lyrical.
Nelson has an impressive cast of players to fulfill his vision. Drummer Matt Wilson is able to shift from subtle, almost invisible timekeeping, to a full-fledged arsenal of sounds. The way Wilson comments on Nelson's play on "Loose End" is awe-inspiring. Another highlight throughout the album is the playing of saxophonist Seamus Blake. For some reason, Blake tends to do his best performances as a sideman, and here he is in absolutely top form, literally blowing his soul out on the tender mid-tempo balled "Introspection on 401.
As a composer Nelson tends to merge the approach of structured pop tunes and open improvisations. He sounds equally inspired by Radiohead and Bill Evans, and it's almost inevitable to mention Brad Mehldau, who also favors the sound of the new; but Nelson has more going for him than being a mere imitator of old or recent names. He combines a singular lyricism and fluid touch with original writing and challenging arranging.
He's equally at home writing new standards like the tune "Leaving Here, featuring the gorgeous singer Sara Gazarek, as he is reinventing underrated old pop gems like the Beach Boys' "Tears in the Morning. Nelson's reading of that tune is every bit as masterful as some of the Beach Boys interpretations done by David Kikoski and, as always, the supporting cast of bassist Darek "Oles" Oleszkiewicz, Wilson and Blake follows him every step of the way.
Nominally a debut record like this would be praised with words like "promising, "talented, "an interesting voice to follow in the future" and so on, but it doesn't seem to fit the bill in this case. Josh Nelson is already there, letting it all go. This is not only an outstanding debut, it's one of the best releases of the year.
Personnel: Josh Nelson: acoustic piano, Rhodes, Hammond C3 organ, glockenspiel; Seamus Blake: tenor saxophone; Anthony Wilson: acoustic and electric guitars; Darek "Oles" Oleskiewicz: acoustic bass; Matt Wilson: drums, percussion.