Joey Alexander continues to grow and develop, and it does make you wonder what music he’ll be making when he reaches the grand old age of twenty-five.
Mack Avenue Records MAC1208
Joey Alexander (piano, Fender Rhodes, mellotron); Theo Croker (trumpet on tracks 1,2,3,5); Kris Funn (double bass); John Davis (drums)
Recorded The Bunker, Brooklyn, New York 30-31 March 2023
Joey Alexander is a jazz wunderkind. The Indonesian-born child prodigy taught himself to play music at six while listening to his father’s jazz albums. At the age of ten, Alexander was invited by Wynton Marsalis to play at the Jazz at Lincoln Centre, and his family moved to New York City in 2014. He has won various prizes and praise from many musicians including Herbie Hancock, who heard Alexander play when the youngster was just eight. Alexander released his first album when aged eleven. This is his seventh album as leader – he turned twenty in June this year.
Some child prodigies have crashed and burnt, but Alexander seems to have coped with fame and expectation well, displaying a maturity both in his playing and his grounding. His last album, Origin, released in 2022, featured all his own compositions, and on this album, he has written five of the seven tunes.
While talking about the tracks, it’s worth mentioning that this album only lasts 46 minutes. I suspect this is less to do with a lack of material or inspiration, but part of an increasing (and in my view, unwelcome) trend of releasing albums in LP and CD formats, and having the former platform dictate the total running time. With vinyl commanding a significant price premium over CD (in this case, the LP is double the CD price), there seems to be a concern about not seemingly short-changing LP buyers. There is space for an additional 30 minutes of music on the CD, but even more importantly, some tunes that could have been developed even further, are curtailed in order to fit everything onto a single vinyl disc.
On a happier note, Alexander has put together a solid band of players, including his regular tour band. Bassist Kris Funn has played with Kenny Garrett, Christian Scott, Pharaoh Sanders and Jeff Lorber. Drummer John Davis has played with Chris Potter, Marcus Strickland and Eric Lewis. A welcome addition to the trio is the young (aged 38) trumpeter Theo Croker, a musician who is making waves on the music scene and is one of a generation of players who span jazz, rap and hip-hop.
‘Blue’ is a cracking opener, a midtempo piece featuring Croker’s clean, sweet lines and fast flurries, reminding this listener of Freddie Hubbard. The rhythm section keeps a tight grip on proceeding, with Finn playing a bass vamp and Davis laying down a steady beat. Alexander’s influences include Bill Evans, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock and Horace Silver, and the echoes of their sound can be heard in his playing (which is no bad thing). Alexander’s solo showcases the young pianist’s touch and fluidity.
‘Why Don’t Me’ a lovely, melodic piece, starting off with rippling piano runs before Croker and the rest of the band join in. Alexander plays a good solo, and the influence of Herbie Hancock can be discerned in the voicings. My favourite track is ‘Hear Me Now,’ an uplifting tune in which Alexander uses a mellotron to create sweeping, swirling, string-like sounds, and Davis sets up a solid groove. Croker shows why he is creating such an impact in the jazz world, with long, soaring lines that seemingly race towards the heavens (at around the four-minute mark, he plays a few ragged notes during an exquisite solo, which the producers have wisely retained – music is more about feeling than perfection).
The two covers are both ballads, ‘I Can’t Make You Love Me’ (the best known version is sung by Bonnie Rait) and the hymn ‘Great Is Thy Faithfulness’ which are fine platforms for Alexander’s touch and sensitivity. ‘Zealously’ is the fourth and final track to feature Croker. It’s a funky number which has Alexander playing Fender Rhodes (and sounding a little like Chick Corea during his solo). Funn kicks things off with a short solo before laying down a vamp, as Davis plays a metronome-like beat. Croker unleashes yet another majestic solo, and the tune ends on a sudden stop. The final piece, ‘Aliceanna’ is a pretty ballad, with Alexander playing piano and using a mellotron to create flute-like sounds. The rhythm section plays with great delicacy, and Alexander delivers an impressive and expressive solo, with melodic phrasing and a lightness of touch.
This would be an impressive album for a musician of any age, let alone someone who has barely left his teens. Joey Alexander continues to grow and develop, and it does make you wonder what music he’ll be making when he reaches the grand old age of twenty-five. A very pleasurable listen indeed and one of my albums of the year.