Vocalist Mon David
and pianist Josh Nelson
's D+N+A: David/Nelson/Agreement
has two recorded antecedents in John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman
(Impulse!, 1963) and Emilia Vancini
's And If You Fall, You Fall
(Espira, 2020). This new release favors the former in that David is a baritone voice as was Hartman and his repertoire on D+N+A
is one of jazz standards, some more standard than others. The project resembles Vancini's later efforts in its uncompromising artistry and fearless iconoclasm.
Mon David is a notable artist from the Philippines who, in 2007, left his homeland and a successful career in music to become a jazz singer in America. His duo project with Nelson is his fourth U.S. release following 2015's This Is All I Ask
(Dash-Hoffman), 2012's SoloMon
(Orange Room Records) and 2009's Coming True
(Self Produced). Josh Nelson has worked with Jeff Hamilton, Peter Erskine, and Sara Gazarek, for whom he has composed songs and served as musical director. Nelson previously toured worldwide with vocalist Natalie Cole before that singer's death. Nelson's piano sound has been likened to that of Oscar Peterson
and Gene Harris
in his command of an urbane brand of ballads and blues.
Together, David and Nelson strip things down to the absolute necessities: David's relaxed and attentive baritone voice coupled with Nelson's ear for what to play and not to play. Nelson recognises the importance of allowing David to lead within (and, sometimes, outside of) the confines of the sacred 32-bar format. The pair introduce the recital with a surprise, the rarely covered Hague/Sherman composition "Did I Really Ever Live" from the 1969 musical The Fig Leaves Are Falling
. David infuses the piece with a tone of resigned desperation and regret. His vocals capture an intense and dense anxiety associated with loss and wasted time. It is a powerful beginning.
The lion's share of the dozen songs presented are ballads, David and Johnny Hartman both may be baritones, but it is there that any comparison ends. David is fearless in seeking his high and low registers while injecting an emotional element that results in his ability to convey the conflicting complexities of the human heart. David feels what he sings, offering for us, as listeners, to feel the same. "You Must Believe in Spring" and "Lush Life" are programmed next to one another in a sad-ballad tour-de-force. The former is sung with a sweet, almost hopeful naivete while the later is filled with a bone weary acceptance of one's lonely place.
David and Nelson click on "Devil May Care," introduced by David's staccato vocalizations spurning Nelson into a keyboard same. It is an improvised free-for-all allowing both artists to rub their respective sticks together, making fire. David is a capable scat singer: bold and exploring, unafraid of hitting the off note. He makes all wrong right with Nelson along for the ride. "Here's to Life" cools things to an autumnal reverie skillfully dispatched by David among Nelson's spare support. In the first of two thoughtful mash-ups, "If You Never Come to See Me" and "Skylark," juxtaposing two visions of yearning want and loneliness: romantically hopeful and romantically deprived. This is duo art of the highest order. On the other side is the second coupling, Thelonious Monk
' "Straight No Chaser" with Charlie Parker
's "Billie's Bounce." David and Nelson display their bebop chops while updating the pieces into a wild and fast-paced ride, including Tagalog lyrics in the end. David scats with abandon while Nelson weaves the blues into a completely modern and relevant interpretation.
The performance center point is a dizzying and genre-shifting performance of John Lennon's "Imagine." David pulls out his vocal stops, singing with a determined abandon of hope reflecting the sun while Nelson passes through the aforementioned Peterson and Harris, while also picking up Bill Evans
, Alan Broadbent
, and Brad Mehldau
and adding them to his heady mix. The collection is aptly entitled D+N+A: David/Nelson/Agreement
as it unites two like minds at the perfect time to create a lasting work of art founded in the very building blocks of music.
Did I Ever Really Live; You Must Believe In Spring; Lush Life;
Here’s To Life; In Praise of Bill Evans: I Remember Bill/Very
Early/Waltz For Debby; If You Never Come To Me/Skylark;
Straight No Chaser; Billie’s Bounce; Imagine; Blame It On My
Youth; I Chose The Moon; Always And Forever.