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Josh Nelson: Exploring Mars

Dan Bilawsky By

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Exploring Mars is fueled by a love of science fiction, intellectual inquisitiveness, and musical inventiveness of the highest order. Pianist Josh Nelson, initially inspired by the landing of the Curiosity rover on Mars in the summer of 2012, put together a project that's musically expansive and wholly unique: It's safe to say that he's the first person to tie together author Ray Bradbury's writings, original music that ranges from the friendly to the far-out, tributes to four rover landings, and the work of composer Gustav Holst.

This particular space odyssey begins with Nelson's spoken word recitation of material from Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles (Doubleday, 1950) over a 5/4 musical backdrop ("Bradbury's Spirit"). From there, it's off to a number that starts with the focus on Nelson's piano, artfully expanding and ripening as it goes ("Sojourner"). Then there's an engrossing look at the guitar work of Larry Koonse ("Memnonia Quadrangle"), an oddly endearing love ballad delivered by vocalist Kathleen Grace ("How You Loved Me On Mars"), and a quirky and fusion-y trip ("Opportunity").

The second half of the album is populated by an equally wide variety of material. "Solis Lacus, The Eye Of Mars"—a dark tom-and-cymbal meditation from drummer Dan Schnelle—leads to Nelson's overdubbed take on "Mars, The Bringer Of War," the best known piece from Holst's The Planets, Op. 32, and "Curiosity," a synthesizer-centered number that excites and inspires. Nelson's space mission then comes to its end with "Syrtis Major, The Hour Glass Sea," which finds John Daversa speaking in tongues with his EVI, and "Spirit," a reprise of the music on the album opener.

A fertile imagination and strong musical skills have given birth to a remarkable work of art here. Exploring Mars is a world unto itself.

Track Listing: Bradbury's Spirit; Sojourner; Memnonia Quadrangle; How You Loved Me On Mars; Opportunity; Solis Lacus, The Eye Of Mars; Mars, The Bringer Of War; Curiosity; Syrtis Major, The Hourglass Sea; Spirit.

Personnel: Josh Nelson: piano, trumpet, Nord Electro 3; John Daversa: trumpet, EVI; Larry Koonse: guitar; Dave Robaire: bass; Dan Schnelle: drums; Kathleen Grace: vocals; Alan Ferber: trombone; Brian Walsh: bass clarinet; Larry Goldings: B3 organ(4).

Title: Exploring Mars | Year Released: 2015 | Record Label: Origin Records

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