Joey Alexander: Joey.Monk.Live!

Jeff Tamarkin on December 12, 2017

His story is the stuff of legend: Now 14, the Indonesian jazz-piano prodigy has already been wowing even the most jaded listeners and critics for the past few years, not only with his superior chops but also with his innate grasp of the music’s depth and place. Three-time Grammy nominee Joey Alexander isn’t one of those special young’uns who’s good only at repeating what he hears. When he plays the piano, it becomes quickly apparent that he understands the music’s history and role within the culture. But does that understanding extend to Thelonious Monk? That’s a tough call. Monk created his own stylistic line of jazz piano. Many have covered him, some trying—successfully or not—to remake his innovations in their own image, others just content to leave well enough alone and turn out acceptable copies. Alexander’s approach on this live set, cut at NYC’s Jazz at Lincoln Center with bassist Scott Colley and drummer Willie Jones III, is somewhere in between. He knows that he doesn’t yet have the goods to put his own stamp on these seven tracks, but he’s confident enough to take it as far as he can. His solo during “Rhythm-a-Ning,” is played at a blindingly rapid tempo, but not for the sake of speed alone and Alexander’s fingers never hit an extraneous note even at full velocity. Both his opening number, the covered-by everyone “Round Midnight,” and closer, “Pannonica,” are performed solo by the pianist, with tenderness and wonderment in his voicings. And on “Straight No Chaser,” he proves that he isn’t a showboater, sharing the spotlight with his seasoned companions. You can now add generous bandleader to his growing list of accolades.

Artist: Joey Alexander
Album: Joey.Monk.Live!