Josh Nelson: Discoveries (2011)
Nothing fuels the creative impulses like the art of discovery. A new chord voicing can unlock a door to a different world, and different rhythmic permutations can prove to be an endless source of inspiration, but discovering these things and utilizing them to good effect are two different things. Few artists can see the world through the eyes of the uninitiated while writing with the intellect of the musical elite, but pianist Josh Nelson is one of them.
On Discoveries, Nelson taps into his inner child to find inspiration through the works of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, but the pianist's music doesn't come off like a reflection of these authors' retro-futurist tendencies. Nelson's writing is modern, in the here-and-now, and crafted with a broad harmonic vocabulary that helps to create a rich musical mélange to fire the imagination. His ability to build intricate, interlocking motifs, while simultaneously painting broad swaths of complex colors in swirling fashion makes him a man with few equals.
While Nelson's music parallels or resembles the work of certain composers at various times, no single influence or style eclipses his own personal, musical ideology. "Dirigibles" features some melt-the-heart bass clarinet work from Brian Walsh and tender guitar soloing from Larry Koonse, and bears a certain likeness to Maria Schneider's most wistful work, while "Jogging Day" has some of the same genetic markers as pianist Brad Mehldau's far-reaching Largo (Warner Bros., 2002). Nelson even manages to marry the romantic tendencies of Beethoven, the cinematic flair of a Randy Newman film score, the hypnotic tone of a Philip Glass composition and the artistic bent of a Mehldau performance to good effect when he dismisses the band for a solo piano nod to the authors that fired up his imagination ("Wells, Verne And The Magic Lantern").
Nelson may only have seven musicians (plus his own piano) at his disposal, but at times he manages to make it sound like seventeen. The rare combination of trumpet, trombone, bass clarinet and wordless vocals helps to create a unique, identifiable aural signature in his work, and he seems to take the Ellington philosophy of writing for specific musicians, rather than a faceless instrument, to heart. The meditative and hypnotic effect of Nelson's piano work, the soaring sounds of Vanessa Robaire's voice above the horns, the solo voices of trumpeter Dontae Winslow and trombonist Alan Ferber, and the deft rhythmic interplay between drummer Dan Schnelle and bassist Dave Robaire set this music apart from the beginning, but Nelson doesn't write differently for the sake of standing out.
Nelson is an eternal explorer who still finds wonder in what may exist in the great musical beyond, and Discoveries is a stunning aural report of his findings thus far.
Track Listing: Atma-Krandana; Sinking Ship; Dirigibles; Tesla Coil; Discoveries; Memorial; Jogging Day; Wells, Verne, And The Magic Lantern; Weena (Love Theme From "The Time Machine"); Griffith Park Promenade; Ode To Zoetrope.
Personnel: Josh Nelson: piano, keyboards; Larry Koonse: guitars; Dave Robaire: electric bass, acoustic bass; Dan Schnelle: drums, percussion; Dontae Winslow: trumpet, flugelhorn; Alan Ferber: trombone; Brian Walsh: bass clarinet; Vanessa Robaire: vocals.