Josh Nelson: Live At Bluewhale, Volume 1

Dan McClenaghan BY

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Josh Nelson: Live At Bluewhale, Volume 1
Pianist, composer and—maybe most importantly—conceptualist, Josh Nelson must be a big reader. For his album Exploring Mars (Origin Records, 2015) he drew from, in part, Ray Bradbury's fantastical science fiction story collage Martian Chronicles. And he took a deep look into science and science fiction (H.G. Wells, Jules Verne) for his Discoveries (Steel Bird Music, 2011).

Live At Bluewhale features recordings from Nelson's Discovery Project originally performed at the Bluewhale jazz club in Little Tokyo in downtown Los Angeles, backed by an adroit, rotating ten-piece band which includes a pair of violins, a cello, reeds, trumpet, guitar. and the leader's piano and eclectic keyboards. The sound is enriched and chamber-ish, intricate, spilling over with appealing and unusual harmonic washes.

The set opens with "Double Helix," a nod to the discovery of DNA, with a sound of multiple sonic spiral staircases swirling around each other in an enriched aural soup; while "Our Electromagnetic Hearts," a poignant ballad, explores the linking of our hearts and minds, and "Peter Sellers" comes from Nelson's admiration for the comedic actor who made the ridiculous and ridiculously funny Inspector Clouseau come to life in the Pink Panther films.

Nelson celebrates his subjects with sound. His conceptual arsenal—in separate songs here, rather than in a full album as he did in his Exploring Mars mode —can be compared to Brad Mehldau's Highway Rider (Nonesuch, 2010) or Bob Belden's Black Dahlia (Blue Note, 2001) in its beauty, originality and accessible cerebralism.

"Oumuamua" plays out as an eerie extraterrestrial symphony, written by Nelson— as are all the tunes here—for a mysterious space object which flew through our solar system in 2017, a la Arthur C. Clarke's Rama, from his 1973 novel Rendezvous With Rama. The closer, "Blue Whale Dives Deep" is a sentimental and melancholy tribute to the now closed Little Tokyo jazz club, Bluewhale, which inspired these compositions.

Track Listing

Double Helix; Our Electromagnetic Hearts; Peter Sellers; Oumuamua; Bluewhale Dives Deep.


Josh Nelson: piano; Miguel Atwood-Ferguson: violin; Jeff Parker: guitar; Artyom Manukyan: cello; Larry Koonse: guitar; Daniel Rotem: saxophone, tenor; Chris Lawrence: trumpet; Alex Boneham: bass, acoustic; Dan Schnelle: drums; Brian Walsh: clarinet.

Album information

Title: Live At Bluewhale, Volume 1 | Year Released: 2021 | Record Label: Steel Bird Music

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