Josh Nelson

Josh Nelson



Josh is that rare young musician who has not only a wealth of study and experience under his belt but he also possesses those rarest of musical attributes: a touch, a tone, and a sound that are all identifiably his own. -- Peter Erskine

For his Native Language debut, Let It Go, Los Angeles-based pianist-composer-arranger-bandleader Josh Nelson assembled a stellar crew of respected New Yorkers (drummer Matt Wilson, tenor saxophonist Seamus Blake) and fellow L.A. jazz musicians (bassist Darek Oles, guitarist Anthony Wilson) to help him interpret several of his evocative originals. A wealth of influences can be heard on this ambitious outing, from classical to rock to jazz with subtle touches of Keith Jarrett, Brad Mehldau, Michel Petrucciani, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Greg Osby and The Bad Plus creeping into Nelson’s playing and composing here. Conceptually, it’s an incremental leap from the 28-year-old’s self-produced first outing as a leader, 2004’s Anticipation. “On that recording, the tunes are all originals but they’re more in a Bill Evans-David Kikoski,-Kenny Kirkland kind of vibe,” says Nelson, a semi-finalist in the 2006 Thelonious Monk Piano Competition. “It was a bit more straight ahead with more time and effort spent on soloing. With this new project I was trying to paint a little bit more of a picture compositionally.”

From the cascading piano trio opener “Loose Ends” to the fragile quartet number “Introspection on 401,” from the bittersweet and nostalgic “Leaving Here” (with guest vocalist Sara Gazarek) to the suite-like “Colors,” the classically flavored “Deep Breaths” and the dynamic rock-tinged closer “Let It Go,” Nelson distinguishes himself as a first-rate player and composer with a fresh, wholly personal take on the music. Nelson and Blake turn in affecting piano-sax duet performance on Erik Kertes’ lyrical “Abandon Post” while Nelson, Wilson and Oles strike a magical accord on Ben Wendel’s hauntingly beautiful “Julia.” Elsewhere, Nelson and company deliver inventive takes on the jazz standard “Love Letters,” buoyed by Wilson’s brisk swing feel and anchored by bassist Oles’ deep, woody tones, and the Beach Boys’ song “Tears in the Morning,” which is underscored by the drummer’s sensitive brushwork and also features Blake singing the melody simply and sweetly upfront through his tenor horn. “I feel that a lot of the time things simply said have the greatest impact,” says Nelson of that heartfelt rendition.

“I have, obviously, checked out classic jazz and I do play standards all the time,” he continues. “But I grew up I grew up hearing the Beatles, the Beach Boys, Billy Joel, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor and Paul Simon around the house. I also grew up in musical theater and am a huge film score person. So I’m coming more from a storytelling kind of a vibe a lot of the time. That’s where the diversity comes in with a lot of my tracks -- I’m hearing something in a particular mode or I’m really inspired by hearing other people and their particular take on things.”

He mentions that the evocative track “Colors,” for instance, was inspired by hearing alto saxophonist Greg Osby’s strings recording, Symbols of Light. “I love messing around with instrument combinations and still keeping it within the jazz realm, as Osby did on that record. It’s instrumental music that relies on through-composed forms with obviously improvisational sections. And that’s what I tried to bring out with the strings on pieces like ‘Colors’ and also on “Leaving Here.”

While there are flashes of soloistic brilliance throughout Let It Go, particularly by Blake and Nelson, it’s the scope of Josh’s fully-realized pieces and his attention to dynamics within each tune that most impresses here. “This recording is a great opportunity to showcase my writing style and the different avenues that I like to explore and not just ‘play it safe’ by making a record of just standards,” says the accomplished composer-arranger who has also been the musical director for singer Sara Gazarek for the past three years.

Born in Long Beach, he grew up around Los Angeles and soon became immersed in the L.A. jazz scene. During his high school years, Nelson received the Louis Armstrong Award, the John Phillip Sousa Award, as well as numerous "Outstanding Soloist Awards" at music competitions around the country. He attended Long Beach State University, where he studied with Cecilia Coleman. “She’s probably my biggest influence as far as just getting going with my jazz playing,” says Josh. “I studied with her for about five years and she taught me a lot of stuff. I still consider her my main mentor.” While enrolled at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, he studied with Neil Olmstead, Tiger Okoshi and Kim Steiner. Nelson’s other important mentors during his formative years in jazz were pianists Bill Cunliffe and Alan Pasqua. “Bill is coming from a place of compositional exploration, though he’s still a very traditional player. He’s also got qui


Let It Go - 2007
Anticipation - 2004