* * * * * * * * * * *
MON DAVID & JOSH NELSON – “D + N + A” – Dash Hoffman Records
Mon David, vocals; Josh Nelson, piano.
Mon David and Josh Nelson balance, with two hands and a rich baritone voice, a dozen classic songs plush with thought provoking lyrics and memorable melodies. Here is a duo that make me feel as though I’m sitting at one of those old piano bars, martini in hand and drooling over the rich, provocative music. The duo opens with a song I’m unfamiliar with; composed by Albert Hague & Allan Sherman and titled, “Did I Ever Really Live.” The lyrical content is rich. Mon David sings:
“You’re born, you weep, you smile, you speak, you cling, you crawl, you stand, you fall. You stand again and try and then, you walk. You eat, you drink, you feel, you think, you play, you grow, you learn, you know and then one day you find a way to talk. You’re young, you fly, you laugh, you cry, you’re grown, you’re on your own at last. You lose, you win, your days begin to slip away too fast. … is it too late to ask, Did I ever love? Did I ever give? Did I ever really live?”
Those poignant lyrics drive this project. These one-dozen songs delve deeply into the mystery of life and living; gain and loss. One of my favorite jazz ballads follows, “You Must Believe in Spring.” I still remember the first time I heard Cleo Laine sing this song ‘live’ at the Hollywood Bowl. Mon David caresses the lyrics with sensitive vocal strength, while Josh Nelson’s hands work like an artist’s paint brushes. His piano-playing gently strokes the keys and chords to support Mon David’s emotional delivery. They follow this song with several other’s we have come to love over jazz decades. The duo interprets Billy Strayhorn’s “Lush Life” and Artie Butler and Phyllis Molinary’s candid composition, “Here’s to Life.”
Mon David is multi-talented. He sings, but he also plays guitar, piano and drums. He explained his decision to record a duo album.
“For me, the human voice is the primary instrument for expressing the emotional depth of a song, but the piano is a close second. That’s why I wanted to work with Josh. His solo performances are terrific, but when he plays with a singer or other instrumentalists, his music has an almost symphonic quality. He’s also very spontaneous. He listens so closely. I realized we really didn’t need charts for these songs, because we were able to collaborate and create them on the spot. That’s why I named the album DNA, which is an acronym for David-Nelson-Agreement. It’s a real conversation between the two of us.”
There are moments when Mon David becomes a percussion instrument with his voice, like on their arrangement of “Devil may Care” and at other unexpected moments, his voice bounces octaves to a head-register tone, like a horn-player or a swiftly moving tennis ball. His tenor voice swoops into view and grabs our attention. He scats and purrs his way through familiar songs like “Billie’s Bounce,” and “Blame It on My Youth,” John Lennon’s “Imagine” and challenging compositions like “Waltz for Debby” in a medley praising the genius of Bill Evans. That medley is one of my favorites on this production. He also introduces us to newer songs like the Bill Canton and Mark Winkler song, “I Chose the Moon.” This is a vocalist who shows, by his choice of repertoire, that he is confident, courageous, thoughtful, well-prepared and well-lived.
* * * * * * * * * * *
THROTTLE ELEVATOR MUSIC –“EMERGENCY EXIT” – Wide Hive Records
Matt Montgomery, bass/guitar/piano/songwriting; Gregory Howe, guitar/bass/B3 organ/ synthesizer/ songwriter; Erik Jekabson, trumpet/flugelhorn/arranger; Kamasi Washington, tenor saxophone; Mike Hughes & Lumpy, drums; Kasey Knudsen, alto & tenor saxophone; Ross Howe, fender guitar; Mike Blankenship, Farfisa organ/synthesizer.
On Track 6, “Innerspatial Search” this group finally gets my attention. Until then, the compositions were a little lack-luster for my taste. They featured too much repetition in the rhythm section, almost like Rock and Roll tracks that are being prepared for some amazing soloist to come in and overdub on top of. Indeed, that is what Kamasi Washington does throughout on his tenor saxophone, as well as Erik Jekabson on his triumphant trumpet. On track 7, “Rattle Thicket” the group is invigorated with rhythm and they sound very much like a rock band jam session. It’s a brief composition (2-minutes 18-seconds) but its fearless and thunders on the scene with exciting energy. “Art of the Warrior” is more smooth jazz, but as the arrangement unfolds, this song blossoms with increased energy and presence. This
group leans heavily towards rock music with jazz overtones. Sometimes it’s very Grunge-like. Montgomery and Howe are the composers of this music, except Kamasi’s composition, that happened to be the song that finally captured my full attention (Innerspatial Search). The multi-talented Matt Montgomery and Gregory Howe each play numerous instruments, as well as being the songwriters on this project. The resultant material is comprised of productions that have been sitting on the studio shelf from 2001 through 2014. They showcase a young, music-hungry Kamasi Washington, striving to express himself and grow his music. The group seeds of creativity are obvious on this recording, as these musicians plant their feet solidly to express themselves. They have included the past nine recording years, in both the Wide Hive and Fantasy studios, where they created this project. Consequently, it becomes a compilation and history of Throttle Elevator Music’s journey into 2020.