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Joey Alexander - Countdown (Motema Music)

Star rating: 

If you were to jump randomly into COUNTDOWN, the latest release from Bali-born pianist Joey Alexander, you'd have a pretty good chance of hearing a line of improvised piano charged with enough invention and emotion to melt steel. And once the molten metal is happily bubbling away, prepare to have your mind blown by the fact that this staggeringly dexterous musician is just thirteen years of age. That's right; this dynamic, passionate music - surely the work of a seasoned old jazz musician - is coming from the heart and fingers of someone who isn't even old enough to remember the Concorde.

But forget Alexander's age for a second (an easy task, given that COUNTDOWN, this young artist's second release, is such a mature work) and bask in the sonic delights of a tight, conversational trio, led but not dictated by a pianist who never uses his technical gifts to enthral his listener without consulting the emotional sentiment of the composition in hand. Unlike countless other dazzling wunderkinds, there's thoughtful expression in Alexander's playing that lends COUNTDOWN its colourful palette and allows the delightfully inquisitive rhythms of drummer Ulysses Owens Jr. and tangy basslines of Dan Chmielinski or Larry Grenadier, depending on tracks, to shine through with ebullient freedom.

From the steady acceleration of the Latin-infused City Lights, via the warm gospel of Sunday Waltz, a buoyant take on Monk's Criss Cross, a meditative reading of Maiden Voyage (by Joey's champion and friend Herbie Hancock and featuring a lovely soprano sax from Chris Potter) to the devastating solo beauty of Chaplin's Smile and compelling rendition of Wynton Marsalis's For Wee Folks, COUNTDOWN is a prismatic album that demands to be played and played.

Liam Wilkinson
Northern Sky