The Frank R. Paul-esque cover to this one is not quite the giveaway to Josh Nelson's enamorment with antique science-fiction that might otherwise be intuited but more an indicator of a penchant towards retro-jazz soundtracking for sprawling epics and quaint byways—though when I say "retro-jazz", I do so cautiously, advisedly. Comparisons are already being drawn to Darcy James Argue, analogs I don't precisely agree with but understand. Part of the reason for this is in the fact that Nelson, primarily a piano player, is intoxicated with old Herbie Hancock recordings, The Prisoner especially, and that period flavor shows well in his chamber-cinematic style. Argue isn't quite that sedate, know what I mean?
Where Nelson references Wells and Verne, the homages are not to First Men in the Moon but rather Island at the Top of the World and 20,000 Leagues under the Sea. I'd add Around the World in 80 Days and The Begum's Fortune to the list, not to mention generous doses of the non-traditional, the kind of flavoring that informed Wells' radical Crux Ansata and other intellectual works. There is most definitely a very informed literacy in all phases here. Nelson has Herbie down, but he also displays McCoy and Keith in various segments, all interspersed with his own fresh approach, a light but dexterous-handedness that sprinkles everything with sunshine and vivacity.
The backing ensemble is neither tight nor loose but instead very comfortable, well prepared to take its cues from the deceptively arranged charts while sliding in solos that illuminate, accentuate, ponder, and emphasize. Nelson is ever surprising with fills and embroidery as each cut progresses, but some of the most intriguing passages occur when he takes a simple line, as happens in Jogging Day, and makes it breathe unexpected life, subtly playing around with very slight spins on tempo and intonation, a song wherein what is plainly a staccato harpsichordist short envelope mode transcends boundaries through restraint, discretion, and mutation. In sum, Discoveries seems oddly almost staid at first, but intent listening reveals the wealth of subordinated structures and gestures which are the true motive force throughout. Use it as background music, sure, but make sure to allot time to also sit down and let it seep deeply in.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2011, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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