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Joey Alexander – My Favourite Things – Motéma

Joey Alexander – My Favourite Things – Motéma MTA-CD-171, 58:30 ****1/2:

An impressively-gifted pianist with a captivating understanding of the music well-beyond his years.

(Joey Alexander – piano all tracks; Larry Grenadier – bass; Ulysses Owens, Jr. – drums tracks 1,2,4; Larry Grenadier – bass track 3; Russell Hall – bass; Sammy Miller – drums tracks 5,7; Russell Hall – bass; Sammy Miller – drums; Alphonso Horne – trumpet track 8)

José Rizal the Filipino-born polymath and nationalist, who died in 1896, offered the following quotation : “genius knows no country, genius sprouts anywhere, genius is like light, air.”  So whether we are talking about Mozart who was composing and playing before the Austrian Court at age five, to Joey Alexander who was born in Bali Indonesia, and at age 12 arranged and performed the music on this album entitled My Favourite Things, the term seems to be equally applicable.

Clearly Alexander was undaunted by this debut recording task before him. The set list was replete with both jazz and popular compositions that were structurally, harmonically, and rhythmically complex, starting with John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps”. Even in Coltrane’s original recording of the number, pianist Tommy Flanagan, who was no slouch on the instrument, ran into some difficulties during his solo. Alexander’s interpretation is full of twists and turns, oblique passages, and ruminating runs. It is a complex interpretation of a demanding composition.

Thoughtful, may be the best descriptor, for Alexander’s take on Billy Strayhorn’s “Lush Life”. With a Latin under-tone supplied by bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Ulysses Owens, Jr. Alexander shows he understands the intention of the composer, and stays faithful to the structure of the number while exploring its recesses and crevices. Popular culture is perfectly represented by two Rodgers & Hammerstein II compositions: one from the Broadway musical The Sound Of Music with “My Favourite Things” and the 1945 film release State Fair and the composition “It Might As Well Be Spring”.  Supported only by Grenadier’s vigorous bass on the former number, Alexander demonstrates his unambiguous touch and rapt expression. On the latter, the trio form is in play with a Latin vibe on which Alexander shows he has an assertive  approach to the  popular music genre. Owens, Jr. gives his drum kit a workout towards the close of the tune.

Thelonious Monk was a jazz pianist and composer who employed dissonance, angularity, and melodic distortions, in both his playing and compositions. Alexander approaches two of his compositions “‘Round Midnight” and “I Mean You” with sensitivity and an exploratory perception. With technique to burn, Alexander demonstrates his understanding of the rhythmic connotations of the compositions, and has an exacting grasp of  jazz conventions.

TrackList: Giant Steps; Lush Life; My Favourite Things; It Might As Well Be Spring; Ma Blues; ‘Round Midnight; I Mean You; Tour De Force; Over The Rainbow

—Pierre Giroux

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