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Josh Nelson: Discoveries

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Pianist Josh Nelson seems the type who, as a boy, gazed at the stars, wondering what kind of life exists out there; his fifth album, with its evocations of early sci-fi and fantasy, bubbles with that sort of wonder and curiosity. It’s a supple disc spanning the solo pyrotechnics of “Tesla Coil,” the romanticism of “Wells, Verne and the Magic Lantern” and the brooding, probing title track. Nelson voices originally, and his use of chromatics is arresting. His touch is also versatile, from the improbably quick percussiveness of the “Tesla” track to the deliberateness of “Dirigibles,” a sweet, solemn cut that, like several others here, conjures the glory days of black-and-white cinema. Nelson’s work is vivid and visual, not surprising considering he writes film scores. And even though his music is marked by a particular honesty and sincerity, it’s also sophisticated and mature.

His cohorts, including trombonist Alan Ferber and vocalist Vanessa Robaire, are simpatico and patient like their bandleader, who wrote all the tracks save for Russell Garcia’s “Weena (love theme from The Time Machine),” a haunting snippet with a chorale flavor. (Brian Walsh’s bass clarinet lends that one a burgundy sonority.) Other standouts are bassist Dave Robaire, giving “Griffith Park Promenade” just the right measure of drive, and trumpeter Dontae Winslow, who turns the title track-a memorable cut of sunny rhythm and increasingly darkening melody-from tentative to triumphant.

Launched with the rubato “Atma-Krandana,” a discursive cut animated by Larry Koonse’s light-stepping guitar, Dan Schnelle’s urgent drums, Nelson’s colorist keyboards and Winslow’s tart trumpet, Discoveries proceeds with no lag. It is an album that lives up to its name, revealing more complexity and pleasure each time.

Originally Published