Instrumental music can inspire
the imagination. Whether the soundtrack of a favorite movie or jazz,
music without words can take you places that can be any combination of a
wonder, amusement, adventure, romance or relaxation. For pianist Josh
Nelson, the wonder is the Red Planet. Exploring Mars (Origin
Records, 2015) is inspired by the fiction of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells.
It’s also a follow-up to Nelson’s Discoveries (2011).
In addition to piano, Nelson plays trumpet and Nord Electro 3. Also on
this date are John Daversa, trumpet and EVI; Larry Koonse, guitar; Dave
Robaire, bass; Dan Schnelle, drums; Kathleen Grace, vocals; Alan Ferber,
trombone; and Brian Walsh, bass clarinet.
“Bradbury’s Spirit” includes a spoken-word excerpt of Ray Bradbury’s
The Martian Chronicles. The music plays softly underneath Nelson’s
reading from a section of the book that depicts a Martian jam session.
Koonse, Robaire and Schnelle enjoy a light jam as Nelson speaks. The
piano is subtle.
Grace sings lead on the ballad, “How You Loved Me on Mars.” Larry
Goldings adds Hammond B3 organ accompaniment. The first half of the song
is mostly voice and piano. The other instruments eventually come in,
adding depth, majesty and a haunting mood.
“Curiosity” is a combination of ambient piano music and science
fiction-inspired electronics. Daversa’s EVI (electronic valve
instrument) is largely responsible for the latter. The song is an ode to
a Martian rover that inspired the overall project. During Daversa’s
middle solo, it’s difficult not to visualize the homicidal robot in the
movie Red Planet. The a tribute to the actual rover, this could
also be the fictional menace’s theme song. The rhythm trio’s
contributions are solid.
Nelson is developing visual components for this music, which he plans to
play in concerts. “A lot of it uses NASA footage, which includes some
amazing color and composite images that the rovers have sent back to
Earth,” Nelson says. He composed all 10 songs on Exploring Mars.