Josh Nelson

The Sky Remains

origin 82741

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MUSIC REVIEW BY Thomas Cunniffe, Jazz History Online

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If "La La Land" was a salute to the superficial opulence of Los Angeles, Josh Nelson's album "The Sky Remains" is the perfect antidote, focusing on the sometimes troubling history of the City of Angels. Each of the 10 movements is tied to a piece of the city's legacy, ranging from nearly forgotten figures like writer Charlotta Bass and the notorious Griffith J. Griffith, who funded (and was the namesake for) Griffith Park. Nelson uses an 11-piece ensemble to create an aural equivalent to his native city, combining three horns (trumpet, clarinet and alto sax or flute) with an expanded rhythm section (piano, organ, bass, drums and percussion) and three vocalists—including Nelson—singing with and without lyrics. He creates a light, transparent ensemble sound on the opening track, "Bridges and Tunnels", and pares it down for Kathleen Grace's solo vocal on the title composition (I love the sound of Brian Walsh's B-flat and bass clarinets against Grace's floating soprano). "On the Sidewalk" uses a recurring motive in the horns as a background for brief solos by trumpeter Chris Lawrence, bassist Alex Boneham, pianist Nelson, and alto saxophonist Josh Johnson, who also composed this movement. "The Architect" builds nervous energy from two simultaneous fragmented lines, and an uneven rhythmic feel which continues through expansive solos by Nelson, Johnson, Boneham and drummer Dan Schnelle. "Ah, Los Angeles" is organized as a musical palindrome with Anthony Wilson's second guitar solo acting as a center point. The piece seems utterly formless until vocalist Lillian Sengpiehl returns with the horns to reprise the title phrase, at which time attentive listeners will recognize the mirror images in the form. Nelson also pays tribute to two LA musicians, Russell Garcia (with his bizarre "Lost Souls of Saturn", here transformed into a potent solo vehicle for the horns) and Elliott Smith (whose "Pitseleh" is offered as a tender memorial to the late singer-songwriter). Nelson uses the sampled sounds of a carousel and an increasingly menacing waltz melody to illustrate the abandoned "Pacific Ocean Park", and Grace returns for the melancholy "Run", which tells of Mack Robinson, who was overshadowed by Jesse Owens (who he ran against in the 1936 Olympics) and his brother Jackie (who broke the color barrier in baseball). The suite closes with "Stairways" which features more delicate ensemble scoring, and additional solo opportunities for Lawrence, Johnson, Nelson and Wilson. When Nelson performs this suite live, he enhances the experience with historical film footage. However, those unable to catch one of these multimedia events should not be deterred from purchasing this CD, as Nelson's music creates vivid images on its own.






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