Josh Nelson’s known in L.A. as an in-demand sideman and session player for jazz vocalists like Sara Gazarek (“Blossom & Bee”) and Kathleen Grace (“No Place To Fall”). He often takes over the show, suspending vocal animation, with his imaginative comps and classically induced solos that seek to beautify the story without over-embellishing. But he is also a surprising solo artist with a universal language all his own, as fans of his albums understand quite well.
After what seemed an eternal wait, Nelson’s back on the scene with a follow-up to his dreamy, 2011 Discoveries, an album of original thought inspired by sci-fi writers Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, their themes of exploration and time travel, as well as steampunk imagery.
Nelson’s Exploring Mars comes out on Origin Records, February 17, with a two-night CD release show at L.A.’s artsy Blue Whale, February 20-21, 9 p.m. Like Discoveries, this is a concept album but more in the real science realm, focused on the possibilities of life on Mars. Inspired by NASA’s car-sized Curiosity rover exploring Mars’ Gale Crater on August 2012, Nelson went on his own musical expedition, throwing in his interest in the other three rovers, as well as sci-fi author Ray Bradbury’s seminal “The Martian Chronicles,” dated 1950.
“I knew then that I wanted to write something about [the Curiosity rover] and eventually I decided that I wanted to write pieces for each of the four rovers,” Nelson explained in a January 27th release by Michael Bloom Media Relations. “So I studied each rover and its life span and its tools on board, and tried to reflect that musically as best I could, with kind of a different instrumentation featuring John Daversa playing on EVI on a lot of it. Kathleen Grace and I co-wrote a song together and it just kept growing.”
It all makes for a wonderful blend of multi-media in the presentation of the original music on his sixth recording as a bandleader. An early description of the album has Nelson combining “a sense of whimsy and wonder about what’s ‘out there’ with pieces ranging from thoughtful introspection to surging fusion bristling with frantic unisons to a faithful solo piano reading of the classical piece ‘Mars, The Bringer of War’ from Gustav Holst’s The Planets.”
Nelson appears at the Blue Whale with his band, guitarist Larry Koonse, bassist Dave Robaire, drummer Dan Schnelle, vocalist Kathleen Grace, and Walter Smith (sax) on Friday and John Daversa (trumpet/EVI) on Saturday. They’ll have art/video to enhance the music, put together by Claudia Carballada, Travis Flournoy, and Jesse Ottinger.
The cover is $15 without the CD and $20 with. Reservations: (213) 620-0908.