Review: John L. Nelson Project records jazz by Prince’s dad
The John L. Nelson Project, “Don’t Play With Love” (Maken It Music/Ropeadope)
Unless you’re a dedicated Prince fan or an attentive reader of album liner notes, John L. Nelson’s name may not ring a bell, but there’s a good chance you’ve heard some of his tunes.
A jazz pianist who named his son after his stage name (Prince Rogers), Nelson shared songwriting credits on a handful of tracks on albums like “Purple Rain,” ″Around the World In a Day” and “Parade.”
Although he passed away in 2001, Nelson’s daughter and Prince’s half-sister, Sharon, rediscovered some sheet music with her father’s handwritten charts that she’d kept since the late 1970s. A belated tribute to his 100th birthday — Nelson was born in 1916 — “Don’t Play With Love” is a clear, straightforward and worthy jazz collection that stands on its own merits.
The album’s family ties go even deeper, as the elder Nelson’s nephew, famed drummer Louis Hayes — best known for his work with Horace Silver and Cannonball Adderley — anchors the band. Pianist Rick Germanson, Vincent Herring (saxophone), Jeremy Pelt (trumpet), Dezron Douglas (bass) and a string quartet conducted by Adi Yeshaya interpret the seven compositions with verve and style.
Album opener “Lucky Am I” sounds like the theme from a 1960s detective series and has, similarly to the title track, a spacious, cinematic quality. It’s probably no coincidence Prince included his father’s compositions mostly on his soundtracks.
“Don’t Play With Love” is a lush ballad with a dizzying closing sax solo, while “Heart of Mine” could make a city rooftop tanning session feel like day at Copacabana Beach. Closer “Step Back” has a deep, soulful groove with engaging solos from the whole band.
Despite the Prince connection — it was recorded at Paisley Park, though after his death — the album needs no nepotistic boost. It just swings, baby!