by Steven Miller
Elsa Nilsson, After Us Review
Flutist Elsa Nilsson and pianist Jon Cowherd have brought forth a culmination of their performances in a beautifully composed and performed new album, titled After Us. A richly woven tapestry of creativity taken from both musician’s disparate musical backgrounds. The two formed their duo and have been playing around New York City since 2014. The unique setting of a duo allows for the exploration of space that opens up when instruments are paired down. Such is the case on their album as co-leaders. The two beautifully explore nine original compositions which are mainly Nilsson originals coupled with two Cowherd charts.
“Same Trees” begins with an introspective minor introduction performed by Cowherd. The theme is a subdued and flowing melody played with impeccable style and instrument control by Nilsson. The intro is revisited before Nilsson begins her building solo. Starting with many references to the melody, Nilsson develops her solo with rising intensity and register. Cowherd keeps the accompaniment solid and supportive and Nilsson builds her energy. Cowherd’s solo instantly explores the harmonic possibilities of the composition’s beautiful harmonic progression. Together the duet makes a musical statement that is memorable and soothing all at the same time.
“Crimson” finds the duet in the land of swing. The challenge as duet is to imply the swing feel and pulse within each instrument’s role. Nilsson and Cowherd communicate this with impeccable style. Cowherd never walks a bass line, but the way he places the chords propels the time along in a manner that the quarter note pulse is easy to feel. Nilsson’s soloing pulls from the jazz idiom, her tone is rich, and her rhythm is swinging. The duet does a nice job keeping the time consistent, as Nilsson pushes the time in the closing moments of her solo, a common approach in jazz that is effective. Cowherd keeps the time solid. His approach to push and pull, makes “Crimson” one of the highlights of After Us and demonstrates the chemistry and mastery of the two musicians.
After Us is a welcomed listen, and a worthy addition to your jazz collection. Stellar performances with subtle and heartfelt writing is a winning combination.