Jazz Sensibilities

Since 2008, a place to discover new jazz and beyond releases on the rise. New WEBSITE and New Contributors Adding. Stay Tuned. Until then, enjoy the blog, but check back often.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Josh Nelson, A Lion On The Rise

Josh Nelson, Let it Go
Label: Native Language
Reviewed By: Carmel DeSoto

Josh Nelson (piano, Rhodes, C3 organ, glockenspiel)
Seamus Blake (tenor sax)
Anthony Wilson (acoustic, electric guitars)
Matt Wilson (drums, percussion)
Darek "Oles" Oleszkiewicz (bass)
Sara Gazarek (vocals on "Leaving Here")

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!

Dena DeRose, Not Quite On Target

Dena DeRose, Live At Jazz Standard
Label: Maxjazz
By Carmel DeSoto z

Dena DeRose (piano, vocals)
Martin Wind (bass)
Matt Wilson (drums)
Joel Frahm (tenor sax #8)

Pianist/vocalist Dena DeRose and her trio (Martin Wind on bass and Matt Wilson on drums) certainly have developed a swinging, communicative and multi-layered sound that is very enjoyable from an instrumental standpoint. Unfortunately DeRose’s vocals fall short in comparison to her piano skills. Granted all instrumentalists sing their parts in their head first and then transfer that sound to their instrument, but that does not necessarily mean they are skilled as a vocalist in quality of tone, pitch control or ability to convey an emotive storyline within the song. DeRose is certainly a more than apt pianist and clearly articulates that on her latest release Live at Jazz Standard.

As a recording artist, Dena has 5 CDs to her credit, all of which have received extensive accolades. On this latest MaxJazz offering, Live at Jazz Standard, Volume One, DeRose and crew run through a program of well-placed standards and a DeRose co-authored cut that truly showcases the trio’s instrumental chemistry as a strong unit.

The first cut, “Speak Low,” a Nash and Weil standard, is taken at a reverent speed showcasing DeRose’s dexterity and intelligent harmonic choices on the piano. Wilson displays an interactive and well-spoken voice in the trio mix, while Wind keeps a solid foundation for the trio to catapult from. DeRose’s delivery vocally stabs quickly at the melody, creating a lack luster tribute to the composers beautifully written lyrics of love and longing. “This is Love,” a DeRose and Philippe Petrucciani original, exhibits a breathtaking plot of love from a distance. Lyrically this is an outstanding cut, but regrettably DeRose’s vocal falls short from a pitch standpoint with her falsetto register. Additionally her re-entrance after a succession of solos is forced and sounds strained, detracting from the overall concept of the message.

“Get Out of Town” is a jaunty tune that lies nicely with the trio as a deep-swinging instrumental presentation. Written by standard giant Cole Porter, the cut drives with force and verve, highlighting DeRose as a stellar and fiery pianist. Wilson’s cymbal work is outstanding, lending a dynamic and high-energy feel to the cut. DeRose is much more at home vocally within this cut from a phrasing standpoint, but still lacks the bite needed to really sell the cut. Her voice feels underdeveloped tonally, and as she enters the form after the solos her voice is pinched to reach the notes. Even though she is executing the notes technically, the quality of voice exhibits a mid-range and nasal characteristic.

Saxophonist Joel Frahm joins the mix on “I Fall in Love Too Easily,” peppering the track with emotive lines that add to the moodiness of the piece. The group aptly supports Frahm as he weaves a gorgeous tapestry. DeRose again is at moments clearly at the bottom of her range, especially at the end of the form on the phrase “I fall in love too fast.” To her credit DeRose is unique in her vocal phrasing and delivery, which focuses on a very matter-of-fact presentation on each cut and you can hear her attempt to articulate the texture of a horn player, but in my opinion she has not developed the breath or control abilities she exhibits on piano.
Many of the tracks are laced with pitch deficient notes and unclear execution of the lines. To say they are “blue” notes would really be a stretch. This is not to detract from her piano abilities, which she clearly has developed with great control and emotion, but to compare her to other vocalists on the Maxxjazz label like Carla Cook, LaVerne Butler or even pianist/vocalist Christine Hitt, I would have to say that vocals are a work in progress for DeRose. I would love to hear an all-instrumental album in the future from this artist, with possibly a guest vocalist on a few cuts, to focus on Dena’s true strength, which is piano.