This dancing, jubilant recording breaks no new ground, but it beautifully realizes the old-fashioned notion of joy in swinging. The trio makes its way through a program of originals (real melodies, not just notes to get to the blowing) and standards, sans drummer, without missing a beat.
"The Second Time Around" begins on tiptoe, gathering momentum as it unfolds. Nelson's ebullient solo is buoyed by Ray Drummond's insistence in finding just the right notes at or near the bottom range of the bass. Here, as on the rest of the session, Kirk Lightsey's quicksilver comping complements his trenchant solos. His blues-tinged offering on the chestnut "I Don't Stand a Ghost of a Chance with You" features some lower-register rumination that eventually engages the full range of the keyboard. "Easy to Love," Cole Porter's paean to the possibilities of romance, moves with an ease that recalls bygone eras. Nelson's solo builds to elegant peaks, as choruses begin with riffing figures that unfold with bell-like clarity. His last percussive chorus is struck with almost startling authority.
Nelson, the composer, is represented by "Kirk's New Delight," "Song for Justine" and "Original #2." The former has the air of a song one has heard before, but not quite, with the melody hung on a non-standard form. Lightsey's "Heaven Dance," set in part over a bass ostinato, is arguably the most modern in construction of the original material. Contemporary in its use of harmony, it moves rhythmically in and out of straight-ahead passages.
"Minor Blues," a riff-based twelve-bar theme by the late vibraphonist Lem Winchester, recalls the once-common practice of initiating blues excursions from catchy launching pads. Following Drummond's chorus, Lightsey once again begins in the lower register and works his way up the keyboard before Nelson takes over, using repeated notes to add heat and spark to his second chorus.
The legendary New Yorker critic Whitney Balliett called jazz the sound of surprise. Steve Nelson and his cohorts remind us that jazz is also the sound of joy. Fuller Nelson faces the present, honors the past, and makes a winning case for it all.
Track Listing: The Second Time Around; Kirk's New Delight; I Don't Stand a Ghost of a Chance with You; Song for Justine; Easy to Love; Heaven Dance; Minor Blues; For Wes; Original #2; Laila Blues
Personnel: Steve Nelson (vibraphone), Kirk Lightsey (piano), Ray Drummond (bass)
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