Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of DNA, an album of wondrous, intimate vocal-piano duets by timeless jazz treasures Mon David and Josh Nelson, is the fact that once they had the set list of jazz standards, homage medleys to Bill Evans and Monk and Bird, a few romantic/philosophical obscurities, John Lennon’s “Imagine” and a vocal version of a lovely Pat Metheny ballad, they didn’t use or need charts.
Letting their years of musical experience guide their intuitive conversation, they collaborated and created the casual yet grandeur filled conversational arrangements m on the spot. Listening attentively to the lilting ballads that dominate the set (“Here’s To Life,” “Blame It On My Youth,” Mark Winkler and Bill Cantos’ dreamy and reflective “I Chose The Moon”), you can almost visualize David standing at the piano emoting effortlessly over Nelson’s soft-spoken elegance.
While these graceful gems perhaps linger in the heart longest, the most immediately rewarding are the duo’s more whimsical moments, most prominently David’s infectious vocal percussion intro to and scat passages throughout “Devil May Care” (shades of the masterful Al Jarreau!), which naturally inspire some of Nelson’s most imaginative chords and improvisations. The two spin a similar punchy hypnosis with their feisty spin through a medley of “Straight No Chaser/Billie’s Bounce,” in which David complements his spirited scatting with additional Filipino lyrics (paying homage to his native culture and homeland).
The two blend both vibes seamlessly on Michel Legrand/Alan and Marilyn Bergman classic “You Must Believe in Spring.” In the midst of a sweet, straightforward rendering, David’s muse inspires some deep vocal improvisations that showcase his soaring range.
David, whose victory in the 2006 London International Jazz Vocal Competition helped launch an extraordinarily eclectic career, has recorded with numerous other top flight musicians on his earlier projects. Choosing to work with Nelson (whose credits range from six years with Natalie Cole to Kurt Elling, John Pizzarelli and Dave Koz) was a true stroke of brilliance – and hopefully their innate DNA will bless us with more empowering dual magic in the future.