When pianist Josh Nelson's name surfaces in conversation, the art of the trio isn't typically a topic that comes up. A first-call accompanist and collaborator for the vocal elite, and a conceptualist who's crafted smartly arranged musical love letters to everything from steampunk sci-fi to the City of Los Angeles as part of his ongoing Discovery Project, Nelson is a creative force to be reckoned with. You just don't really hear much about triangular pursuits in his portfolio. That's what makes this live date such a find.
Recorded at Japan's Kobe Modern Jazz Club during a 2019 tour arranged by friend and jazz buff Dai Murata, this hour-long program finds Nelson working with two of the Left Coast's most sturdy rhythm men bassist Alex Boneham and drummer Dan Schnelle. At the actual shows, elements of Nelson's Discovery Project moved across a screen and accompanied the music, but a lack of visuals here don't serve as a negative. These performances need no help from any other medium. Whether kicking and swinging through an 11-minute take on "Mint Blues," a number that appeared on Nelson's I Hear A Rhapsody (Steel Bird Music, 2009), or dancing around Thelonious Monk's "Reflections" with twinkling melodic grace and class, this trio is engaging as can be.
Three of the four numbers that follow that opening pairing expand on earlier visions from Nelson. "Atma Krandana," touching on the Hindu notion of "the crying of the soul" with its dizzying and wondrous designs, and "Dirigibles," given to tender expressions and brief leans toward the ominous, both originally hail from Discoveries (Steel Bird Music, 2011); and a lengthy "Introspection on 401," which sets off with Schnelle's hypnotic rim-and-heads game before gearing up for a flowing ride across the titular Canadian highway, dates back to Nelson's debut, Let It Go (Native Language, 2006). But the meditative and trippy "Kintsugi," coated with haunting keyboard glazes and arcing in intensity, is brand new...and beautiful. Reflecting a Japanese concept surrounding strength gained through the act of rebuilding, it proves to be a standout among other strong performances. Whether the trio becomes a primary pursuit for Nelson remains to be seen, but it's certainly another format that suits him.
Mint Blues; Reflections; Atma Krandana; Dirigibles; Kintsugi; Introspection on 401.
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