On the second CD by his nine-piece ensemble, the Manhattan New Music Project, guitarist, composer and arranger Paul Nash builds on the foundations of predecessors Gil Evans, Charles Mingus and Weather Report, to create a “classical jazz” ensemble sound that is contemporary while displaying traditional roots.
Featured soloists on The Soul of Grace (Soul Note) include trumpeter Jack Walrath, saxophonist Bruce Williamson and French hornist Tom Varner. Varner’s brassy sound and fluent bop solos contribute to the Gil Evans vibe on several pieces, while the leader’s distortion-laced guitar on “The Phoenix” recalls the heartfelt interpretations of Jimi Hendrix’s music performed by Evans’ jazz orchestra in the 1980s.
Nash, a Bronx native, played guitar in high school, then took a degree in classical performance and composition from Berklee College of Music in Boston before moving to San Francisco, where he formed his first large ensemble in 1972 at the age of 29.
He formed the Manhattan New Music Project upon his return to New York in 1990. In 1993 the group released its first recording, Mood Swing (Soul Note), which Nash describes as being “far more eclectic” than the current one, “the crossover into classical music” being “much more pronounced.”
In 1997, he performed a concert of his orchestral jazz works at Carnegie Hall as part of the JVC Jazz Festival. He holds a seat on the Board of Governors of the American Composers Alliance, and is involved in promoting arts education in the New York City public schools.
Describing his compositional method, Nash says, “I might have a tune that sits for a while, before I develop a concept to use it in an arrangement. But on the other hand, I think that, more and more, I don’t write tunes. They are really bigger pieces that are just conceived to be larger than that.
“The thing that intrigues me the most is putting ideas in juxtaposition, and finding relationships between them. How do you make the connection between different music? That, to me, is the greatest part of it: finding transitions.”