Our jazz readers will notice that just this week in our review of Sean Mason’s debut, the opening paragraph shed light on a ‘renaissance’ of gifted young pianists. Mentioned in that group is the youngest one of all, 20-year-old Joey Alexander, the once child prodigy who last year issued his first album of originals, Origin, which we covered on these pages. As the title suggests, Continuance furthers Alexander’s journey as a composer, featuring five originals along with two inventively arranged covers. (though by jazz standards, the album is a bit too brief) Unlike its predecessor which featured such luminaries as Chris Potter, Kendrick Scott, Larry Grenadier, and Gilad Hekselman, Alexander pared down for this release, backed by his road-tested trio of bassist Kris Funn, and drummer John Davis along with guest trumpeter and Grammy-winner Theo Croker on four tracks.
As cliché as it sounds, Alexander demonstrates a maturity beyond his years with his compositions that infuse classical and world elements leading to exceptional harmonics in places. The interplay of the trio and Alexander’s chemistry with Croker are also striking; they are a well lubricated machine in motion. Alexander’s advanced pianism made him the beneficiary of tons of publicity in his teenage years. These last two efforts reveal him establishing his jazz creds, if you will, and the verdict is very solid although it seems a bit geared toward a mainstream and even pop audience that he’s eager to introduce to more complex forms of music than what they may have previously associated with him. Alexander is not yet among the ranks of the great piano improvisers, but he shows considerable promise there too. His strength, at least for now, lies in his own and interpretations of thorough composed material. He does experiment a bit here, though, which we’ll get to later.
The album kicks off with “Blue” and while there is a faint element of blues in this primarily post-bop piece, the striking aspect is the dichotomy between the calm and the heated, heard both in Alexander’s and Croker’s solos. The classically infused “Why Don’t We” is a gorgeous ballad, commencing with a series of glissandos before the clear-toned Croker enters, fortifying the melodic lines. Similar classical influences imbue the quartet rendered standout “Hear Me Now,” again with a delayed entrance from the trumpeter in yet another highly lyrical turn as the pianist bubbles joyfully underneath and drummer Davis works special magic with his cymbals. This being the lengthiest track, which features more intense blowing from Croker and an extended solo from Alexander, and a third that carries the theme with a bit more verve in Croker’s sustained lines while featuring Funn and Davis more prominently.
“Zealousy” begins with a robust pizzicato turn from Funn, and with Croker’s appearance, his fourth, Alexander surprisingly plays Fender Rhodes and delivers a solo on it, no less. Yet again, though the focus of this one rests with bass-drum tandem. A bigger surprise awaits with the closer as Alexander plays a Mellotron flute on “Aliceanna.” Kudos to the youngster for letting us know that he is no one trick pony, sticking exclusively to the acoustic piano. Alexander’s gift for balladic melodies proves unequivocally strong again but the ‘buzz” track on the album is likely to be his cover of Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” a trio rendered sublimely gorgeous piece of music. Alexander confesses to falling in love with song without being aware of who Bonnie Raitt was – (chalk that up to being barely a twenty something and growing up in Indonesia, by the way). Give credit to Alexander though for being open-minded; he gravitates toward some vocal tunes too, adding a touch of spirituality via the well-known gospel hymn “Great Is Thy Faithfulness.,” another trio foray.
It’s rather amazing to consider that this is Alexander’s seventh album as a leader at his age. Perhaps even more stunning is the emotional quotient already present in his writing. Somehow, he casts a mood that’s reminiscent of Herbie Hancock’s Blue Note debut, Maiden Voyage. That’s not to suggest in any way that Alexander even belongs in the same conversation, but he makes giant strides each time out in composing and as a bandleader. He’s certainly no kid anymore from a musical standpoint.
- Jim Hynes
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