Testament-Live at Cecil's
Possessing a fluent technique, an ear for choice notes and a knack for composition and arrangement, saxophonist and multi-woodwind artist Anthony Nelson is an on-the-rise jazzman destined for wider recognition. Here on Testament, his debut recording, Plainfield, N.J. native and resident Nelson exploits his gifts as a tenor and soprano saxophonist and as a composer and arranger on a bouquet of works, running from such solid originals as "Elsie" and "Paula Danielle" to deft interpretations of standards like "Darn That Dream" and "Misty." A saxophonist since age 11, Anthony here plays tenor and soprano. "I fell in love with the husky voice of the horn," he says of the tenor, naming Gene Ammons, Sonny Rollins, and Pharoah Sanders as primary inspirations. On the soprano, he likes Grover Washington, Jr., Joe Ford, and Sidney Bechet. "I love the color of it," he says of the smaller horn. Nelson has studied with several saxophonists who provided essential information. From 1993-1995, there was James Stewart, who worked on ear training, and from 2003-2005, Leroy Barton, while Anthony was enrolled at the University of the District of Columbia. "He helped me get to the heart of the saxophone," he says. And at William Paterson University in Wayne, from which he will graduate in May, 2010, there have been area aces Vincent Herring and Gary Smulyan. Anthony has been fascinated by composition since he was 15, and calls writing his passion. "Composing is an opportunity to set the stage, to tell a story," he says, citing Oliver Nelson, Wayne Shorter, and Cedar Walton as influences. The saxophonist's playing experiences have also been first rate. Nelson's been a member of drummer Cecil Brooks III's CB III 3-horn Band, he's toured with violinist Regina Carter, and he's appearing with jazz legend singer and lyricist Jon Hendricks in his recent revival of Evolution of the Blues Song in New York. He's also recorded with drummer T.S. Monk and organist Radam Schwartz. For the past four years, Nelson's emphasis has been to showcase his wares as a leader. "I want to pay homage to my influences by presenting the music they've inspired in me," he states. Anthony named his album Testament - recorded live at Cecil's Jazz Club in West Orange - because it was an expression of his deep spiritual sentiment, which feeds his music. "I'm a devout Christian, and first and foremost, I say thank you to God for the ability to play music," he states. "At the same time, all these compositions, which are dear to me, are testimonies of faith in my life." "Elsie," for example is a vibrant waltz about helping his aunt Elsie walk up stairs, and her saying "Thank you, Jesus" each step she took. Nelson is a powerful, persuasive writer who is able to dig into a range of modern styles with imagination and allure, allowing melodies to stand out. The album's driving opener, "Two By Two," is a 12-bar blues variant that has a tuneful stance and rhythmic wallop that Art Blakey could have gotten behind. Drummer Tyshawn Sorey, on the first of four appearances, provides the huge beat. "Elsie," with percolating Brooks III, who plays the other six selections on traps, leads to "He Looked Beyond My Faults," also known as "Danny Boy." Impassioned Nelson here, as well as on "Soul at Rest," dedicated to the memory of jazz greats like drummer Elvin Jones. "Beautiful Booga Baby" - which Nelson calls a "whimsical piece" - was inspired by his niece, Ahradai, dancing at home. It starts with playful Allyn Johnson piano and leads to his solo, backed by bassist Matthew Parish and Sorey, then trumpeter Freddie Hendrix, and the forceful leader. The standards "Darn That Dream," "This Little Light of Mine," "Polka Dots and Moonbeams," and Misty," all delivered with spirit and musical heft, lead to the closer, the evocative ballad, "Paula Danielle" - named for Nelson 's wife. Working with his colleagues for this recording was a wonderful experience for Anthony. "These are amazing musicians who can swing and groove," he says. Nelson's also glad he decided to record live. "When you play live," he says, "you feed off the energy of the people." By their audible encouragement and applause, you know the listeners dug what they heard. And so will many others. Testament is a rich, refreshing document full of deep, moving music. In hard times, in any times, that's a gift. Zan Stewart, February, 2010.