Joey Alexander – Origin – Mack Avenue Records

by | Jun 28, 2022 | Jazz CD Reviews | 0 comments

Now fully on the Joey band wagon…

Joey Alexander – Origin – Mack Avenue Records #MAC1198 – 52:45 – ****1/2

(Joey Alexander – piano, Fender Rhodes (#4, 6); Larry Grenadier – bass; Kendrick Scott- drums; Gilad Hekselman – electric guitar (# 4, 6, 9); Chris Potter – soprano sax (#2), tenor saxophone (#4, 9) 

To be frank, I had resisted jumping on board regarding the early accolades on the piano child prodigy (at age nine!), Joey Alexander. Joey began playing the piano at six years old in Indonesia, after listening to his father’s jazz albums. He taught himself to play and had the innate skill to absorb the genius of piano greats like Thelonious Monk, among others. By age nine he had impressed jazz artists like Herbie Hancock and Wynton Marsalis.

He was brought to the United States a few years later, and before his teenage years, Joey began appearing at jazz festivals. His maturity and piano skills were a marvel, and he concentrated on interpreting, in an uncanny way, jazz classics. His solo versions of Monk’s “Round Midnight” showed his creativity and proved his prowess.

Beginning in 2015 with his CD release, My Favorite Things, Alexander has released four albums. They covered largely his improvisations of classic jazz compositions, but included some original tracks.

I can say with great enthusiasm that Joey’s new release, Origin, helps him enter a more elite class of jazz pianists. This release is comprised of all original compositions, and Alexander has done all the arranging. The melodies and harmonic communication are striking. Joey’s touch, key strike, and sense of swing immediately entrance. His rhythm section was obviously inspired, and their interplay is polished and spot on. Guitarist, Gilad Hekselman, and saxophonist, Chris Potter help expand the soundscape on three tracks each. Joey adds the Fender Rhodes to his arsenal, and its mellowness contrasts the more robust contributions of these guest artists. All three collaborate on “Winter Blues,” a tune that has the funkiness and polish of a Steely Dan composition.

Alexander can channel McCoy Tyner with wild displays of power, and then bring Bill Evans to mind with gentle, contemplative skills using “space” to enhance listeners’ concentration and rapture. 

Opening with “Remembering” Joey teases with tension and release with a catchy vamp before stretching out and increasing the intensity with some challenging runs. Kendrick Scott’s drumming pushes the tempo before the trio settles back in, and then helps bring it back to a boil again. Chris Potter’s sonorous soprano saxophone with a Middle Eastern type tone is featured next “On the Horizon,” a gentle tune. “Dear Autumn” has a majestic feel that honors the season we all love with color changes .

“Promise of Spring” continues our “seasonal” journey with a sublime ballad. We go full circle on “Summer Rising” as Joey (on Fender Rhodes) and Gilad on guitar, blend like a fine scotch warming the palette. “Midnight Waves” is another gorgeous number showing Joey’s exquisite touch and wise maturity. We also get a beyond warm bass solo by Larry Grenadier.

“Rise Up” has the full quintet with both guests aboard. Its title is apt as it has Hekselman and Potter open up in an exploratory fashion, each taking off and letting the other respond in kind, as the tune enters some “free” territory. 

This excellent and career defining, (to date) release concludes with the short ballad, “Hesitation.” Joey shows that at only 18 years old his future is unlimited. He already has a decade under his belt, and can no longer just be known as a child prodigy. With this masterful release he should be referred to as an “established” artist, with the best yet to come.

Tracklist:
Remembering
On the Horizon
Dear Autumn
Winter Blues
Promise of Spring
Summer Rising
Midnight Waves
Angel Eyes
Rise Up
Hesitation

—Jeff Krow




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