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Album review: Josh Nelson's 'Discoveries'

November 21, 2011 |  9:00 am

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"Discoveries": Josh Nelson (Steel Bird Music)

In L.A. native who's been a fixture around town with the likes of Peter Erskine, Anthony Wilson and veteran trumpeter-vocalist Jack Sheldon, pianist Josh Nelson sounds poised for national prominence on his fifth album as a bandleader, "Discoveries." Though packed with nods to the vintage sci-fi of H.G. Wells and Jules Verne both in song titles and an eye-catching cover, the album feels grounded in the now, with rich ensemble playing and a gracefully ambitious compositional voice.

With drummer Dan Schnelle providing a compressed percussive foundation reminiscent of the textures used by Brad Mehldau on his influential 2002 album "Largo," "Jogging Day" finds Nelson's piano weaving between a glossy chorus of horns, while the skittering rhythm of "Memorial" features a similar sort of drive lightened by the airy nonverbal vocals of Vanessa Robaire. Trumpeter Dontae Wilson gets a head-turning moment to shine on the contemplative title track, and "Sinking Ship" finds Nelson's lively piano pushing the group forward opposite Brian Walsh's bass clarinet in a restlessly evolving melody that features an acrobatic solo by trombonist Alan Ferber. Sometimes it's amazing what you can discover in your own backyard.

[For the Record Nov. 22: An earlier version of this post misidentified drummer Peter Erskine as Steve Erskine.]

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-- Chris Barton

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