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Album Review

Carole Nelson Trio: Night Vision


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Carole Nelson Trio: Night Vision
For good or for bad, the pandemic lockdowns spurred no end of introspective, soul-searching albums. Ireland-based English pianist Carole Nelson could have been heading that way when a 2020 residency in Mayo, with the Na Cailleach women's art collective, prompted her contemplation of the ancient peat-bog landscape, the wild sea and humans' story in place and in time. However, it was not in this artistic cradle that Nelson found her muse, but in the wildlife of her own garden, particularly in its night-time rhythms. So much for artistic residencies.

Night Vision is the Carole Nelson Trio's third album on Black Stairs Records, following One Day in Winter (2017) and Arboreal (2020). Continuity and evolution are the watchwords. After half a decade together, Nelson's trio with bassist Cormac O'Brien and drummer Dominic Mullan is well established, but the trust, intuition and empathy are—three albums in—deeper still. Spare melodicism and a subtly impressionistic flair are common threads running through these albums, but where Night Visions differs is in the greater improvisatory freedom at play. For that, the trio is indebted to recording engineer Ivan Jackman of Hellfire Studios, who suggested the trio simply improvise to play its way out of an artistic impasse.

Placing "Chrysalis," the album's most brooding and in some ways most abstract piece, at the head of the queue before more rhythmically pronounced tracks, suggests that careful thought went into the order in which the compositions/improvisations are presented; this is a dream-like journey that stirs, lulls and quietly cajoles. The album begins on an introspective yet restless note and ends, fifty minutes later, with the peaceful contemplation of "Meditation"—a resolution in more ways than one.

A most economic pianist, Nelson plays with a caressing touch and ample use of space, notably on the slow-breathing "Dreaming of a Snake." Even in more expansive, flowing mode, as on "Night Vision," the pianist conveys a beautifully measured, unhurried narrative. Nelson juggles gently pulsing piano and softly keening soprano saxophone on the Wayne Shorter-ish "Enter Your Life." The same instrumentation combines on the free-improvisation "Mayfly," though to altogether more frenetic effect.

O'Brien's killer ostinato courses through "The Silence of Clouds," a wonderful contrast in groove and melodic agility. His playing throughout informs the music's feel greatly. Mullan is a more reserved presence, his animation on "Deeper Still" breaking the mould of the mostly brushes-driven rhythms and accents that the music calls for. But this is a trio greater than the sum of its parts—perfectly attuned and deeply empathetic; look no further than the gently swinging poetry the three musicians conjure on "And Still The Birds Sing," an album highlight, for proof of that.

Night Vision further cements the Carol Nelson Trio's place as one of the most arresting jazz trios in Ireland and the British Isles. There is no boastful swagger or virtuosic braggadocio here, but that does not mean that the music lacks passion, intensity or emotion. On the contrary, for all the trio's refinement, its intricately spun dialogues are moving and engaging.

Track Listing

Chrysalis; Dreaming of a Snake; Entomology; Night Vision; Enter Your Life; Mayfly; The Silence of Clouds; Depper Still; And Still The Birds Sing; Meditation.


Carole Nelson: piano; Cormac OBrien: bass; Dominic Mullan: drums.

Additional Instrumentation

Carole Nelson: soprano saxophone, voice.

Album information

Title: Night Vision | Year Released: 2023 | Record Label: Black Stairs Records

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