Steve Nelson

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Sound-Effect Review

by Michael G. Nastos

With only a handful of recordings as a leader to his credit, vibraphonist Steve Nelson is known much better as a sideman. When he does a recording up-front, the repertoire tends to be far less challenging than his work with other modern mainstream jazz groups, most notably the bands of Dave Holland. That is not to say it is any less heartfelt. On this effort, Nelson asserts himself as one of the premier soloists on his instrument, as he has been for several decades. Check out the bridge work during his original lengthy nine-minute ballad "Sound Essence" or the closing number, the late James Williams waltz "Arioso," and you hear the craft of a thoughtful, skilled, literate master at work. This collectively is a pro's pro quartet, with pianist Mulgrew Miller, bassist Peter Washington, and drummer Lewis Nash succinctly pulling more than their fair share of the load. Miller, always brilliant, facile, and tactful, shines through the simplest version of "Desafinado," a patient reading of "Night Mist Blues," and the more complex quickened bright waltz "Song for Tina," one of three Nelson originals. The pianist's unison playing with the vibes must be heard much more than once. The band rips through "You and the Night and the Music," a barn-burning modern hard bopping take on this well-worn standard if there ever was one. It's uncertain if there has been a vibist minus trumpet or saxophone take of Freddie Hubbard's "Up Jumped Spring," but this shouldn't be the last, with Miller again steadily stoking the coals of Nelson's waltzing terpsichore. This program starts with Nelson coolly blowing stardust all over his original "One Thin Dime," which could eventually become a jazz standard. It's a midtempo blues swinger in a Milt Jackson tone that firmly establishes Nelson's solo acumen heard throughout, and sets the artistic pace for the entire date. Somehow Nelson's recordings leave the listener wanting more, wondering if he is at the peak of his powers. Sound-Effect demonstrates that Nelson is in fact likely close to the top of game -- hopefully there's more in the tank from this wonderful player.

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