I know Los Angeles-based pianist Josh Nelson best from his work with vocalists Sara Gazarek and Natasha Miller. Nelson is a sensitive and empathetic accompanist for vocalists, never getting in their way but giving them a firm, swinging foundation. He recorded his fourth disc as a leader, Let It Go, in California, with two New York musicians, drummer Matt Wilson and tenor saxophonist Seamus Blake, and two LA-based players, bassist Derek Oles and guitarist Anthony Wilson. Nelson produced the disc and he has assembled a winning collection of ten tunes, six of them by him. Nelson is only 28, but Let It Go is an assured disc by a musician whos sure about where he wants to be.
Nelson cites a number of influences, including Keith Jarrett and the Bad Plus. I hear plenty of the former, more as an aesthetic signpost than as source of Nelsons sound, but very little of the latter. One pianist Nelson doesnt mention is Vince Guaraldi, but Nelsons playing is immediately likable in the same way Guaraldis was, although its more complex and rhythmically daring. Nelsons safety net on Let It Go is Wilson, an adventurous drummer whose feel for the rock rhythms on "Let It Go" is as natural as his jazz chops on the rest of the disc. I would have enjoyed hearing a bit more of Wilson and, perhaps, a little less of Blake, who sometimes veers into smooth jazz. Sara Gararek guests on "Leaving Here," one of Nelsons tunes. Its the most convincing jazz performance Ive heard from her yet.
The sound on Let It Go is lively and open, although Nelson could have been pulled back a notch in the mix. If Let It Go has a fault, it is that Nelson seems eager to show how many styles he can play in, including rock, and the disc sometimes feels a little unfocused. Still, more ambition is better than less, and Josh Nelson probably has great things in store for us.
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