Josh Nelson – The Sky Remains
(Origin Records: LC29049 CD review by Nick Davies)
The Sky Remains is pianist Josh Nelson’s tribute to his hometown Los Angeles. Each of the album’s 10 tracks is a story around a theme with references to the city. From songs like Run, which is the story of runner Mack Robinson who came second in the 200 metre dash at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, to Pacific Ocean Park about the nautical theme park located on a pier in Santa Monica. Every song is a story: lesser known and mysterious tales delivered by an excellent composer.
This release boasts a strong line-up of musicians, including Anthony Wilson on guitar and vocals, Kathleen Grace and Lillian Sengphiehl on vocals, Josh Johnson on alto sax and flute, Chris Lawrence on trumpet and flugelhorn, Brian Walh on Bb clarinet and bass clarinet, Larry Goldings on Hammond B3 organ, Alex Bonehma on bass, Dan Schnelle on drums, and percussion by Aaron Serfaty.
So, does Nelson achieve the telling of the story in a jazz setting whilst creating a sense of mystery in this ode to LA?
The first track Bridges and Tunnels is, like the other nine pieces, a standout, stellar performance. The song tells the story of Griffith J Griffith who shot his wife in a drunken paranoid rage, and to create this atmosphere Nelson uses a cinematic score. He starts on the piano, repeating the tune to build the emphasis before Nelson is joined by Grace on vocals. This deepens the mystery and draws the listener even further into Griffith’s world… a sense of paranoia. At this point, all the instruments crescendo with vocals and band intertwining; the duet between Nelson and Grace is never lost.
The Sky Remains is about the future direction of LA, looking back at its past. The live version of this will include an audio visual element. The scene for great music set in Bridges and Tunnel is not diminished here. Once again, Nelson starts on the piano with a melody that can only be described as beautiful, followed by Grace’s vocal and the other members of the band. With influences from some of the great artists Nelson has worked with in the past, like Natalie Cole, this song magically transports the listener with every genius note.
The album continues along these lines and the standard does not drop, every song is played to perfection, each as good as the last. Even the two covers are delivered incredibly well. In answer to my earlier question: yes, it certainly delivers!
The press release states that, with The Sky Remains Nelson is paying homage to his home city of LA; to me it is more of a statement. The quality of this album is up there with the best albums of the last 12 months and further develops the modern sound of jazz coming from the West Coast of America these days. Both original music and covers, like Elliot Smith’s Pitseleh, are owned by the band and seamlessly delivered. The Sky Remains is a future masterpiece.