Vibraphonist Steve Nelson, a longstanding sideman in Dave Holland’s Quintet, plays with authority, intelligence and soul on Sound-Effect, his seventh overall as a leader and debut for HighNote. Together with stellar pianist Mulgrew Miller and the loose-tight rhythm tandem of bassist Peter Washington and drummer Lewis Nash, he covers a wide range of expression on his instrument, from his bluesy, Milt Jackson-influenced midtempo swinger “One Thin Dime” to a faithful reading of Jobim’s oft-covered bossa nova “Desafinado,” from his pensive waltz “Song for Tina” to a blazing boppish take on the standard “You and the Night and the Music” and his own evocative nine-minute opus, “Sound Essence.”
Elsewhere, they turn in a wonderfully relaxed rendition of Ahmad Jamal’s “Night Mist Blues,” underscored by Nash’s supple brushwork and Washington’s resounding and rhythmically assured quarter-note pulse. Washington’s well-crafted, big-toned bass solo here is a melodic gem. And catch Miller’s hip quote from “Things Ain’t What They Used to Be” at the end of his superb piano solo. They close out the collection in refined fashion with two swinging waltz-time numbers: Freddie Hubbard’s buoyant “Up Jumped Spring” and James Williams’ vibrant “Arioso,” the latter featuring a particularly brilliant solo by pianist Miller.
Throughout Sound-Effect, Nelson distinguishes himself as an outstanding soloist, perhaps even elevating his game a notch in the presence of such a regal rhythm section. And since he doesn’t get to play too many blue notes in the context of Holland’s quintet and big band, he seems to revel in earthy pieces here like his own “One Thin Dime” and Jamal’s “Night Mist Blues.”