ALBUMS: Joey Alexander’s Origin Story
The Indonesia-born piano prodigy continues to grow up in public on his sublime sixth LP
One of the great joys of being a jazz listener in these last 10 years has been watching the rise of pianist Joey Alexander.
A child prodigy since the age of six, Joey first made his mark on the American jazz scene in 2014 when, at just 10 years old, he was invited by Wynton Marsalis to play the Jazz at Lincoln Center’s annual gala that May.
Nearly eight years later, the now 19-year-old Indonesia-born Alexander has just seen the vinyl release of his sixth album as a leader, Origin. It is his first set of all-original material, having honed his craft throughout his tweens and teens interpreting material from such masters as John Coltrane, Billy Strayhorn, Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonious Monk. Yet you can hear the spirits of these icons channeling through the expanded imaginative palette Joey expresses across these 10 new compositions. There’s this level of comfort here that makes you feel as if you’ve heard this material before, even. There are even two songs on here, “Winter Blues” and “Summer Rising,” which find Joey testing his chops on the Fender Rhodes.
Artist: Joey Alexander
Label: Mack Avenue Records
★★★★1/2 (4.5/5 stars)
Adding to the mood is the pianist’s accompaniment on Origin. Paramount to which includes the return of his massive rhythm section featured on his last LP, 2020’s Warna on the Verve label, in bassist Larry Grenadier–who has been working with Joey since his 2015 debut My Favorite Things–and acclaimed drummer Kendrick Scott. Together, they form one of the finest working piano trios in action today. And when they are joined by Origin’s special guests–red hot reedist Chris Potter on saxophones and master guitarist Gilad Hekselman–Alexander’s originals really take off, as the funky, aforementioned “Winter Blues” resoundingly signifies. Alexander also ventures into two vastly free improvisations on the album. “Rise Up” is a wild and joyous romp in 9, with Hekselman and Potter back on the case, celebrating the ecstatic release that comes through spontaneous creation.
Much of Origin was composed in New York, but the fluttery, hypnotic “Midnight Waves” comes from an extended return visit to Bali, where Alexander spent his early years. The place he stayed was near the beach, so at night, he could hear the waves. After his busy life in New York City, the stillness and calm there was a welcome change of pace that let him “pause and enjoy the moment.” He hopes the tune will encourage listeners to do the same.
Over the course of his astonishing career, Alexander has performed with Wayne Shorter and Esperanza Spalding at the Obama White House, for President Bill Clinton at the Arthur Ashe Learning Center Gala, at the Grand Ole Opry, the Apollo Theater, Carnegie Hall and at major jazz festivals and night clubs around the world. He has also been the subject of profiles on 60 Minutes and The New York Times. But with Origin, he achieves his highest watermark yet by creating an original work that stands tall on its own accord.
Origin is Alexander’s first album for Mack Avenue Records, and it is also his best. Any jazz snob who has turned his or her nose to this talented young man would be wise to re-evaluate your stance.
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