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Blog site for composer/guitarist Richard Nelson.  



Appreciating this nice preview and interview on Saturday’s Mostly Maine Composers concert at UMA in the Kennebec Journal!


Digging the relaxed, contemporary Ornette-inspired vibe on “Background Music” - Noah Preminger (tenor), Masa Kamaguchi (bass), Rob Garcia (drums - who I had the pleasure of playing with in my Makrokosmos Orchestra at ShapeShifter last November).

Very much enjoyed revisiting Ligeti piano etudes today (listening, not playing!).

Refreshing switch-up: though I usually sport a substantial pedals setup, and consider timbral-shaping and the sonic laboratory a big piece of my creative profile . . . well, the last two gigs have been nearly-all Ellington (with Aardvark Jazz Orchestra), and for both I went lean: Gibson 335 straight into a Deluxe Reissue, only a volume pedal in between.  Worked out really well, pushed me in some new/old directions - a purer concentration and connection in some ways, especially with that rich, elemental Ellington material.  

Turned out to be well worth the five hours round trip in the car to play mostly Ellington, loose and lithe, with Aardvark Jazz Orchestra in Newton last night.   And more this coming Saturday - Ellington sacred music at Emmanuel Church in Boston, 7:30 pm, Dec. 12, in a benefit for the Community Works coalition of Boston-area social justice organizations.  Keepin’ it happening; an amazing band to be a part of!

    Wow - just heard about this, live Weather Report from the seventies - wanted to make sure everyone knows it’s out there!  My favorite material from the original albums, my own taste, has always been the live tracks from I Sing The Body Electric, so this is a major treat for me.  Saw them live twice, Keystone Korner in ’73, Winterland in ’74, if memory serves -Miroslav era.  These tracks are all with Jaco.  Really lively - to me, more exciting than the excellent, polished studio recordings.  Anyway, had no idea this was coming - really digging it!

Weather Report – The Legendary Live Tapes 1978-1981

Slow Sunday = chance to listen to Julia Wolfe’s Anthracite Fields - dug depth, scope, vibe of the whole thing, but especially the compounding energy of "Appliances."

Happy to be sharing advance word that my Deep River CD - which re-imagines American roots music for large jazz ensemble with vocalists - will be released in a recording by the Aardvark Jazz Orchestra on September 8, 2015. And, excited to announce CD release concerts with Aardvark scheduled for September 12 at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, and October 8 at Scullers Jazz Club in Boston.

Deep River is a multi-movement jazz suite that brings a contemporary, jazz-informed lens to a diverse set of four American traditional songs of the 1920s and 1930s.

The haunting Deep River Blues was originally recorded by the Delmore Brothers, but is best known in versions by Doc Watson. Old Country Stomp is an energetic dance tune found on a recording by the itinerant Texan, Henry Thomas, complete with transcription of a rare "quills" solo (here played on piccolo). Wake Up Jacob is an unusually loose and fluid fiddle tune recorded by Prince Albert Hunt's Texas Ramblers. The bluesy, troubled Make Me a Pallet On Your Floor is most closely associated with Mississippi John Hurt.

Deep River treats these inspired, historically rich songs at times abstractly, at times as springboards for Aardvark's inventive improvisers, and finally in surprising though recognizable settings featuring, on the CD, Aardvark's outstanding guest vocalists Marcia Gallagher and Timothy Johnson. (Timothy Johnson will join Aardvark's regular vocalist Grace Hughes at Bowdoin.  Both regular vocalists, Grace Hughes and Jerry Edwards, will be on hand at Scullers.)


Look for links to the CD here, on CDBaby, and elsewhere on September 8.  And join us at Bowdoin and Scullers if you can!


 No band photo yet, but pleased to report that first rehearsal of Tim O’Dell/Richard Nelson and PURSUIT large ensemble in New York went really well!  A fantastic group of musicians to be working with, and gratifying to hear first readings of our new compositions.  

Heartfelt thanks to Peter Bloom, flutes; Alan Brady, bass clarinet/clarinet; Adam Kolker, tenor saxophone and clarinet; Marshall Sealy, French horn;  John Carlson and Jacob Varmus, trumpets; David Chamberlain, euphonium;  Ben Harrington, bass trombone; John Deley, keyboards; Ken Filiano, bass; Yousif Sheronick, hand percussion; and Eric Halvorson, drums.


Final editing and formatting of parts for very exciting project - first rehearsal of new NYC-based large ensemble Tim O’Dell and I have formed to play our music in the city.  First readings of my new pieces “Float” and “Cohere” in a couple of weeks!

Two-year episode of using .011 (lighter gauge) strings on my 335 (Gibson semi-hollow body electric guitar) comes to an end . . . partly for technical reasons--never could overcome acoustical impurities of unwound G string, especially with light seasonings of overdrive/distortion—but really, I think I was trying to fit myself into a foreign personality.  Back with the meatier .012’s, I’m responding to my own sounds much more organically, flow of ideas more open and free.  Good to be back home!


   Happily settled in at MacDowell artists colony (in Peterborough, NH). . . making good progress on trilogy of new pieces (Cohere, Float, and Dissolve) for NYC-based large ensemble “PURSUIT” Tim O’Dell and I are launching . . . with all of these storms, the mile-long trek to my studio has added an extra element of adventure.

Having fun, cooking along, making good progress on composition of “Float (Rosewood Variation)” for the superb marimbist Lynn Vartan.

Anticipation of the upcoming Sleater-Kinney release spurs some back-catalog listening--I’m digging the artfully raucous guitar textures (along with the whole package) on the previously-unheard-by-me album The Woods.

Almost ready to send first chunk of solo marimba piece to the player . . . and looking forward to seeing what she thinks!

Under-appreciated early Ellington song title: “Jazz Convulsions.”  Pretty rockin’ tune, though not quite as avant-garde as the title might suggest . . .

Enjoying chill vibe ofBill Frisell’s “Guitar in the Space Age” tonight.

Looking forward to playing in the  “Election Special” concert with Aardvark Jazz Orchestra on Saturday night . . . no holds barred as we try to tilt things leftward! 

Great concert by “Sketches” group from Brooklyn in Portland last night--Jeremy Udden, Matt Holman, et al...thank you, Paul Lichter, for making this happen!

Finally really getting into the timbral nuances of this “Birth of the Cool”-like large ensemble I’m writing for!

This doesn’t happen very often in Maine (ever before?) . . . the John Cage Sonatas and Interludes" for prepared piano, to be performed by the estimable Bridget Convey, Saturday night (Feb. 1) in Farmington.  I’m going!


Pretty thrilled to be in the band for Ellington/Strayhorn “Nutcracker” on Saturday night, with Aardvark Jazz Orchestra at Emmanuel Church in Boston, and having fun trying to make Ellington’s solo on “Peanut Brittle Brigade” work on guitar.

Painful but on-target piece about the “rewards” for us creative artists . . . er, “content providers” . . . about working for free because we “love what we do,” particularly here in the wondrous age of the internet. 


For casual fans (like me) of black hole/wormhole/spooky action developments, a fun and worthwhile read:


After a rather sizable (though unintentional) break from much listening lately, reengaged today with some Paquito D’Rivera (Panamericana Suite), Mark Gross’s Blackside, and a chunk of Strauss’s Elektra.  This on top of a terrific Portland Chamber Music Festival concert last night (Ravel, Vivaldi, happening youngster Nick DiBerardino).  Feeling diversified!

Sorry to have reached the end of Karen Russell’s Swamplandia!, a read that was both uproarious and scary.

Compositional "heavy lifting" today; compensatory extra intake of caffeine and calories.

Quite a treat to see Dirty Projectors so close to home--great, relaxed show.

Happened to finish composition of a substantial section of a new piece today--unhurried, cloud-like music.  Had thought of it as perhaps being mystical in nature, but in light of Boston bombings it’s seeming elegiac, and I think I’ll always associate it with these days and this terrible event.

After an inexplicable interregnum, I've resumed my sonically-assisted nocturnal wanderings.

Illuminating, inspiring portrait of Jason Moran in last week’s New Yorker.  I’m gonna listen to all of the albums I haven’t yet heard.

What a pleasure to be part of premiere of Mark Harvey’s “Boston Jazzscape” suite with Aardvark at Boston MFA on Friday.  Nice to have a full house, and wonderful to be part of this long-lived, ever-evolving ensemble!

Looks like the forecast for the next several days in Maine could be summed up as “really lousy”.  That said, it was an AMAZING night for walking nearly deserted, tree-lined, snow-covered streets of Brunswick.

Hmm . . . today it’s Sturm und Drang, via Haydn opus 20 quartets.  And not just because it’s nasty outside.  I am amazed yet again at the wealth of creativity and invention in these gems.

Really digging the early electric Miles sound on the recently released “Live in Europe 1969” Bootleg Series recordings.   Wayne Shorter, Chick Corea, Dave Holland, Jack DeJohnette.  Highly recommended on my end.

Experiencing a pleasant sensation of levitation while composing movement entitled “Float.”

     In anticipation of Grammys, finally listened to Frank Ocean's channel Orange straight thru.  What a spacious, beautiful, just-the-right-stuff record. 

     After 22 years (!), really wonderful to be hearing terrific new My Bloody Valentine album, even in low-resolution youtube version.  One of those now rare occasions  when you might actually spring for the real audio files (as in “buy a CD”)!

Wow--this Fall my teaching and related university work have really been unrelenting!  But there have been some happy musical highlights.  A diverse concert of jazz vocal music with singer Marcia Gallagher at UMA in mid-September.  A strong premiere of my “composed/improv” piece Dreamflash by a new edition of my Imaginary Ensemble at Frontier in Brunswick later that month.  And, a high-spirited, high-energy show at Scullers with Aardvark in October--catch some video of that one here:


After too-long Fall semester gear up, finally some creative envisioning and tracks laid today.  More to follow, we hope.

It’s been a nice summer--restorative and reasonably productive.  Wonderful three-week trip to California (Bay Area and beyond) with my family, and great visits with extended family and friends while there.  Beautiful hikes, bike rides, and urban culture.  Now prep for Fall, and Fall projects, loom.  Fine--I’m ready.

Gotta put a shout out to Chuck Thornton for bringing my electric guitars back from the brink.  Now they play and feel better than ever.  He builds amazing high-end electric guitars--unfortunately out of my price range, but well worth a look.


Looking back, and looking ahead to next season:  This indie-classical-meets-indie-rock festival in NYC is well worth being aware of!  Concert I saw in Feb. was an eye-(and ear-) opener.  Like it or not, here comes the future.

Judd Greenstein in I Care If You Listen

Pete Cosey both blew away and baffled (in a positive and productive way) impressionable young guitarists like me in his days with Miles Davis in the early ‘70s. R.I.P.  

Here’s a a nice appreciation by Peter Margasak (Chicago Reader), with link to a worthy video of Cosey with Miles.


Just a few words on the Beasties as all are commiserating on the passing of Adam Yauch--far from my strong suit, but pulling me back for another listen.  To the extent hip-hop/rap was on my map in their earlier days, I was more into Kool Mo Dee (who gave the Boys a bit of a “chill, guys” admonition on his inner-sleeve “scorecard” with How Ya Like Me Now) and Rakim--I took Licensed to Ill at the time more as “white kids once again getting all the attention for jumping on an Af-Am genre” and missed that it was a worthy original take.  (Still not quite sure what it is!)  And didn’t pay that much more attention, until all were abuzz about Paul’s Boutique as must-listen contemporary electronic pop (or, again, whatever you call it . . . ).  Anyway, now, more than before, hearing the joy, play, and fun in it (not to mention what I take to be a hip, original, outing).  And catching up on Yauch’s later activities and priorities--particularly with respect to Tibet--nice going, man.

Surprise!  Persistence pays off?  After close to 20 years in Maine, I've been nominated for the Portland Phoenix's “Best Jazz Act” of 2012.  If it's May 18 or before and you'd like to vote for me, follow this link!  http://www.bestmusicpoll.com/

I’ve been intending to listen to Jonny Greenwood’s “contemporary classical” (still wanting for a better term!) writing for quite a while, but have never tracked it down until the release of this collaborative album with Krzysztof Penderecki.  As a teenage rocker (and still one at heart) whose emphasis moved towards jazz and concert music as years passed, it was the music of Penderecki and Lutoslawski that initially really turned my ears around when I started composition graduate school in the mid 80’s.  So I think I can relate.

Greenwood’s writing sounds rich; it’s engrossing and has a convincing, polished surface.   The presentation of his compositions in the company of Penderecki’s provides a helpful context--probably especially for listeners who aren’t already attuned to the 60’s Polish cluster/glissando repertoire.  (And in that light, many thanks to Mr. Greenwood for bringing this music to a wider audience.)  

I guess my main reaction is “very cool that JG is creating this music,” using his incredible professional success as a platform and means to expand and express across our rapidly blurring genre distinctions.  

What remains?  To my ears, Greenwood’s contributions don’t have the compositional shaping, sense of wholeness, that distinguish Penderecki’s Threnody and Polymorphia.  JG’s work is more skittish and episodic.  Fine.  Keep at it.  One hell of a happening rock star.

  Link to the review that got me thinking about this:


Really enjoying the spaciousness and juxtapositions on Pierre-Laurent Aimard's "The Liszt Project" recording. Liszt in the company of Bartók, Berg, Messiaen, Ravel, Scriabin, Stroppa, Wagner.  A really thoughtful, beautiful album.

Attention everyone with a a stake in creative music and/or the Occupy phenomenon: just wanted to share this essay by composer John Halle (a guest spot in Kyle Gann’s blog, and recommended by Alex Ross--it's rich in insight and detail.  Well worth the read!


Tonight--just sort of appreciating the incredible array and diversity of music “out there”--particularly the non-mainstream--maybe we take it for granted, but it’s (often?) a welcome (and sometimes powerful?) corrective to commercial society’s incessant pounding . . . let us continue to listen . . . and produce . . .

Whew!  Aardvark came through with a very gratifying and inspired premiere performance of my Deep River Suite at Colby on Friday night--many thanks!!  And now I’m really appreciating the post-deadline-pressure state of mind . . . it was a big push . . . finally time for a few deep breaths!

Nice, peaceful, productive weekend.  Lots of composing last week--looks like I will be able to say by Tuesday that the score for Deep River Suite (for Jazz Orchestra and two vocalists) is done . . . all 200 or so pages! . . .


An incredible pleasure and privilege to spend yesterday rehearsing and performing the music of Mary Lou Williams with Aardvark Jazz Orchestra--a band that can really play the stuff, and at the same time bring out its ever-contemporary qualities.  What a joy.

Blown away--and I don’t say this lightly--by Steve Grover’s quartet gig in Portland Saturday night.  Edgy, strikingly original and fresh Kerouac-inspired compositions and a pleasingly dizzying array of improvisational concepts and textures.  Superb individual and collective contributions from Andrew Rathbun, Frank Carlberg and Chris van Voorst van Beest.  Thank you, Steve, and happy birthday (and apologies for this public display!).

Enjoying a brief listening journey back to S.F. thanks to NY Times tip--Thee Oh Sees, The Fresh and Onlys, Sonny and the Sunsets--worthy, fun listens (though a bit underwhelmed by Sonny).

For my friends who prefer their “jazz” to have rock energy--not fusion polish, but hard-edged rock guitar with some complexity chops--may I recommend Bizingas?


Digging funky/jazz/contemporary compositions/improvisations of NuBlu Orchestra (Butch Morris) and Greg Ward Fitted Shards.  NuBlu--dance/funk/jazz all fit together surprisingly well--fresh!!  Ward--sounds like a much bigger band than it is--driving compositions, lots of twists and turns, integrity of purpose throughout.  Cool stuff!