Josh Nelson Trio: Half Moon Bay, CA, February 20, 2011

Bill Leikam By

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Josh Nelson Trio
Douglas Beach House
Half Moon Bay, CA
February 20, 2011

Opening the concert, club owner Pete Douglas announced that in its February issue, the editorial staff of Downbeat Magazine had chosen the Douglas Beach House (a.k.a. the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society) as one of the top 150 internationally known great jazz venues. This honor is bolstered by the quality of the jazz musicians who are booked there, like the Josh Nelson with Nelson on piano, Dave Robaire on bass, Dan Schnelle on drums, and featured guest Dayna Stephens on tenor sax.

From the opening number and all of the way through the nearly two-hour long concert, this was clearly a tight, well-rehearsed band, playing Nelson originals, along with standards to which the band gave a fresh twist. The opening number, Nelson's "Discoveries," set the tone for the evening as he opened with a piano solo. As the piece developed, Nelson seemed consumed with its power as he explosively ran the keyboard and at times added even more emphasis when he rose from the bench. In contrast, the third number of the concert, "Theme From Chinatown" by Jerry Goldsmith, highlighted Nelson's sensitive playing. These two tunes presented the breadth of the charts he chose to perform.

At 32, Nelson is not only an accomplished pianist, he also has the unique ability to pick the right team to back him, and that's most especially true of his drummer, Schnelle. Some drummers bang their drums, but Schnelle held to the background, making himself known but not overwhelming the rest of the group, playing with a sensitivity that supported the others while keeping impeccable time. Robaire kept the strings on his acoustic bass working the background rhythm, and came on strong and sure during his solos. Finally, Stephens, showed the audience that both he and Nelson could have fun, especially as they called, back-and-forth, through a portion of Robaire's composition that was so new that it had no name.

The audience's applause at the end was sincere, not just casually polite. Nelson demonstrated, to this appreciative and seasoned crowd at the Douglas Beach House, that the sensitive young pianist had a lot to give, and that they will clearly see more of him and his wonderful style of jazz as he makes an indelible mark on the scene. This concert was truly one of the high points of this season.

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