Fifteen-year-old jazz prodigy Joey Alexander is the youngest jazz artist ever nominated for a Grammy Award. Showing great promise as both a composer and bandleader, evidenced by the worldwide success of his trio and his latest release, Eclipse (2017), Alexander develops fresh takes on well-known tunes and presents his own compositions.
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Too often, talented young artists succumb to believing so much in their own ability that they lose sight of their true potential as significant contributors to their field. Thankfully, there are others committed to evolving and lifting the music to new levels of appreciation with enthusiasm, engagement, and emotional depth. Enter pianist Joey Alexander, who at the age of 15, has already recorded two Grammy Award-nominated studio albums, My Favorite Things (2015) and Countdown (2016), as well as Joey.Monk.Live!, a critically acclaimed surprise release from late 2017 to honor Thelonious Monk’s centennial. With his third studio effort Eclipse, his most personal statement to date, Alexander takes another giant step forward, demonstrating his aptitude as a composer, bandleader, and musician, hinting at the many artistic paths open to him in the decades ahead.
Eclipse (2017), recorded over a three-day period beginning on the day of the solar eclipse of 2017, features the pianist with a stellar rhythm section of bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer Eric Harland, and guest appearances by saxophonist Joshua Redman on three tracks. The program ranges from jazz classics penned by John Coltrane and Bill Evans, to the Beatles’ hit Blackbird, and a reverent gospel reimagining of the 1875 hymn Draw Me Nearer. Most importantly though, Eclipse showcases Alexander’s significant progress as an astute composer, writing 6 of the 11 tunes.
Born in 2003 in Bali, Alexander lived in Jakarta from age 8 to 10 and then moved to New York City in 2014, where he has experienced one of the most ascendant careers ever seen in jazz. Jason Olaine, a Grammy Award-winning producer who serves as Director of Programming for Jazz At Lincoln Center and has produced all four of Alexander’s albums, says he continues to be impressed by the pianist’s fantastic gift.
As a pianist, Alexander is neither flashy nor bombastic. He approaches the instrument with discipline, as heard on the opening track Bali, playing subtly and gently in some stretches with delicate harmonies, playful and scampering in others as he displaces rhythms. He also possesses an elemental sense of melody, as heard on the final track, an original titled Peace, exhibiting the patience and instinct to get his melodic statements just right.
Alexander is joined by tenor titan Joshua Redman on the originals Faithful, about the sacrifices and challenges he and his family has faced in pursuit of his art, and Fourteen, written on his birthday, and a nod to the number’s significance in biblical deliverance. Alexander and Redman also explore a pensive duo take on Ray Nobel’s 1934 timeless ballad, The Very Thought of You. As on his previous studio dates, Alexander returned to the well of Coltrane with his upbeat take on the harmonic twists and turns of Moment’s Notice from the master’s 1957 album Blue Train.
The tour-de-force centerpiece to the album is the 10-minute Eclipse, which is a spin through the reflective and the dramatic with the pianist in drive mode. Just after the band took a studio break to view the solar eclipse on August 21, 2017, producer Olaine suggested that the trio play free and see where the music would go, resulting in the title track.
With the release of Eclipse, Alexander has created an ever more personal and powerful statement of his musical and artistic vision. His work continues to draw from his inspirations of the past, while he puts his own progressive stamp on the music by constantly exploring, both on stage and in the studio.
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