Josh Nelson, Let It Go

by Jeff Becker

A native of Southern California, Josh Nelson maintains a busy schedule as a jazz pianist, composer, and recording artist. At age 29, he is already performing with some of the most respected names in jazz. Now a soloist in his own right, Josh debuts with a brand new album Let It Go, released on Native Language, featuring a cavalcade of stars; Matt Wilson (drums), Darek “Oles” Oleszkiewicz (acoustic bass), Seamus Blake (tenor saxophone), Anthony Wilson (acoustic and electric guitars), and special guest vocalist Sara Gazarek featured on “Leaving Here.” The program on Let It Go varies from classical-esque introspective moments to driving modern grooves; the overall tone of the release is a cohesive lyrical presentation.

“Loose End” begins the journey, Nelson brings a melting pot of influences ranging from the Bill Evans School of complex harmony to the deep grooves found in this generation’s popular music The cut features odd phrase lengths of 3 and 5 measures, which could have resulted in a total train wreck, but in Nelson’s able hands it is the perfect notion of resolve through the ever shifting harmonic landscapes.

A moment of “Introspection” takes us on a road trip of moodiness that highlights Nelson’s fluidity and ability to create challenging arrangements. This ability set’s him apart from many of his piers. Wilson and Oles really shine on this track, creating a dialogue of complex rhythms and an almost intuitive interaction. Seamus Blake’s searing modern lines, commanding tone and vivid emotion add equally poignant moments, building the cut to a frenetic boiling point of musical passion.

“Leaving Here,” featuring vocalist Sara Gazarek, is a musically fulfilling piece that exhibits beauty, panache and eloquence lyrically and harmonically. Gazarek nails the cut with impeccable pitch and believable delivery. Her crystalline voice is feminine but strong in its conviction and delivery. Guitarist Anthony Wilson, dancing upon his strings, adds another convincing statement to the composition. Nelson has created a classic in the making conveyed by an impressive cast of players to fulfill his palette of musical ideas.

Nelson’s transitions from tender long lines, to freight train rhythmic complexities, to a multitude of harmonic textures are far beyond his years. “Colors” is appropriately titled, the piece is an array of colors and transitions, an extended piece that exemplifies a masterful cohesion of feel changes and arrangement. The introduction of the tune is very tender and classically driven. As Semus enters on saxophone it shows another side of his playing that exhibits beauty and warmth. A further inclusion of strings weave intent of motion to the piece, as it continues to build into a modern fury of sounds. Nelson’s ability to create sections of punctuation, moments of glide and portions of intense tension and release, fill this well-conceived cut.

A debut record is not normally this cohesively mature or executed with such mastery. Nelson’s debut release immediately lets us know this young man is a well-rounded and well-versed contributor to the jazz genre. His commanding abilities deserve to be pushed to the forefront. Let It Go is a breathtaking experience!