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Joey Alexander: Eclipse (Motéma)

Review of 4th album by pianist who recently turned 15 years old

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Cover of Joey Alexander album Eclipse on Motéma
Cover of Joey Alexander album Eclipse on Motéma

Is it safe now, four albums into pianist Joey Alexander’s career, to say that this kid—OK, teenager (barely)—is the real thing? Still a mere 14 when these 11 tracks were recorded, he evinces a deftness of touch, wit and, most important, emotional depth that would seem well beyond his years. On Eclipse, for the first time, his own compositions make up the majority of the program, and somehow it comes as no surprise to find that he’s got a pretty sharp pen too; the well-rounded opener, “Bali,” and more angular “Fourteen” are especially memorable.

To his great credit, Alexander has never shirked from sharing stages and studios with top-flight players. This time around it’s bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer Eric Harland kicking up a storm behind him, with Joshua Redman contributing tenor saxophone on three cuts. Rogers and Harland are great at keeping the leader loose, and the proof of that can be heard in the album’s 10-and-a-half-minute title track and centerpiece, which starts with a prayer-like fanfare, then takes flight in a spontaneous-improv whirlwind before finally resolving into a funky Latin-style ostinato section that Harland in particular takes to with gusto.

Alexander’s playing frequently has an air of the chapel about it, and indeed, one of the non-originals here is a gospel song, “Draw Me Nearer.” When he playfully applies those churchy voicings to his duet with Redman on “The Very Thought of You,” the latter answers with a solo that’s disarmingly tender. The closing ballad, another original titled “Peace,” may never assume as venerated a place in jazz as Horace Silver’s tune of the same name, but it exudes a touching vulnerability that Alexander has the good sense not to milk too much—further evidence of his advanced musical wisdom.

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Originally Published