Joe Alterman – Give Me the Simple Life – Miles High MHR-8619, 59:33 [7/17/12] ***1/2:
(Joe Alterman – piano; James Cammack – bass; Herlin Riley – drums; Houston Person – tenor saxophone (tracks 1, 3, 6-7))
On his sophomore release, Give Me the Simple Life, pianist Joe Alterman has Georgia on his mind; gets the blues; questions why he has to change and why he loves his special someone; and admits at the end that “I’m yours.” Over the course of an hour, Alterman shows an abundantly clear point: he’s a traditionalist and proud of it: out of a dozen tracks, only two tunes are by Alterman while the rest are classics or standards from Broadway, Hollywood or the Great American Songbook. Alterman elicits comparisons to old guard keyboardists such as Erroll Garner, Red Garland or Ahmad Jamal, and while he’s not their equal, he’s sure of his influences and demonstrably wants to keep those kinds of conventions thriving.
Alterman has a light touch, always seems relaxed even when the tempo kicks up a notch or three, and traverses easily through sweet melodies, often holding to the piano’s upper register. Alterman is joined by a superb rhythm section: drummer Herlin Riley (who has recorded and performed with Wynton Marsalis and quite notably with Ahmad Jamal) and bassist James Cammack (who has also supported Jamal). Alterman could not have asked for a more complementary rhythm team: Cammack and Riley provide a simmering foundation well suited to the romantic, melancholy and delicate feeling on the majority of the album. The foremost standouts, though, are four cuts which feature tenor saxophonist Houston Person, whom Alterman met at a New York University master class two years ago. Person’s robust tone, soulful presence and unfailingly fine playing are inspired and push Alterman to beneficial results.
Alterman and Person open with a nonchalant, swinging run through “Georgia on My Mind,” which has a rollicking arrangement. While Alterman uses block chords and sympathetic percussive effects, it is Person who makes this tune vibrant with a solid feel and flawless timing. Even better is a high-spirited drive through Oscar Peterson’s “Kelly’s Blues,” a later-period piece Peterson performed near the end of his career. Alterman does not match Peterson’s technique or remarkable style, but in defense not many can. But the foursome does bring exuberance and energetic confidence: Riley in particular maintains a vigorous beat and slips in some quick solo statements, while Alterman and Person mostly play separately rather than duet. Alterman and Person also glide with self-assurance through two ballads. There is a tender translation of Glenn Miller’s mellow hit, “I Guess I’ll Have to Dream the Rest,” which Frank Sinatra also covered. Alterman takes the early spotlight with a Garner-esque introduction and then Person ticks in with a warm solo which glows with amber emotion. Piano and sax also provide a quiet élan on Alterman’s tasteful “The First Night Home,” where Person’s affectionate sax is poised and self-possessed.
The trio material often has an attractive edge as well. The three musicians supply a brisk contemporary touch and sprightly charm to Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley’s “Pure Imagination,” which some film fans may remember from the 1971 movie, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. The tune has been interpreted by other jazz artists such as Bob James, Bill Charlap and Richie Cole, and was deconstructed by Steve Lehman. The trio furnishes an unaffected modesty to Cy Coleman and Joseph Allan McCarthy’s “Why Try to Change Me Now?,” another Sinatra vehicle. While some of the slower material has a slightly smooth consistency, this piece showcases Alterman’s taste and sensitivity. Riley, Cammack and Alterman evoke a boogie woogie deportment during Alterman’s other original, the Southern-graced “Biscuits,” where Riley’s drums and Alterman’s cadenced keyboard runs meld together in a New Orleans-oriented sprint. While Alterman has chops, sometimes (such as on the title track or during “They Say Its Spring”) his playing seems too polite and with few surprises. Alterman has not yet developed his own voice: he’s a capable mainstream musician, but not, however, at the level of, for example, Joey Calderazzo. Alterman is still a maturing artist and it will be interesting to hear where he is in a few years’ time. While it is not outwardly evident on Give Me the Simple Life, when Alterman wants to, he can really groove, which he displayed during a Blue Note gig early this year.
TrackList: Georgia on My Mind; Give Me the Simple Life; The First Night Home; Pure Imagination; An Affair to Remember; I Guess I’ll Have to Dream the Rest; Kelly’s Blues; Why Try to Change Me Now?; Why Do I Love You?; Biscuits; They Say Its Spring; I’m Yours.
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