On ‘Origin,’ Joey Alexander Attains a New Level of Nuanced Complexity (ALBUM REVIEW)

Based on his fifth studio album, Origin, Joey Alexander’s gifts are no less impressive now that he’s progressed past the point of being a child prodigy. In fact, the precocious pianist/composer/bandleader’s talents may be even more daunting now: he’s attained a level of nuanced complexity even as he’s maintained the essentially accessible nature of his own distinct brand of modern jazz.

A decidedly relaxing air wafts from tracks like “Remembering.” But that’s only a single cut of ten that comprise a carefully-interwoven piece of work. That opening is one of six here featuring Alexander in a trio setting with bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Kendrick Scott, that half-dozen interspersed with one each including saxophonist Chris Potter (“On The Horizon”) and electric guitarist Gilad Hekselman (“Summer Rising”), as well as two tracks featuring both of those men to form a quintet.

Like the work of the three-man unit, the selections by the enlarged ensembles (“Winter Blues” and “Rise Up”) are ideally positioned within the approximately fifty-two minutes duration of this album. The sequencing maximizes not only the contrast within the music but also how the performances complement each other (much like the skills of the musicians). No doubt co-producers Tom Korkidis and Denny Sila, plus executive producer Gretchen Valade, deserve much of the credit for the seamless nature of this album, as do engineers Chris Allen Steven Sacco, and Chris Muth; the expertise of the latter three supplied consistently rich audio. 

The heart of this overall unity, however, lies within the fundamental contributions of Joey himself. After all, his are the all-original compositions like “Angel Eyes,” on which he eschews cliched turns of phrase for unpredictable but inviting melodic and rhythmic progressions. Likewise, in his unhurried but authoritative traversal of the ivories: the now eighteen-year-old artist exhibits a familiarity with his instrument—in the form of both the acoustic Steinway and the electric Fender Rhodes–that never descends into complacent over-repetition. “Promise of Spring,” for instance, radiates the very sense of rediscovery implied in its title.
As such, Alexander’s savvy musicianship, like that surrounding him here in its varied forms, is a source of constant surprise. That element has been a welcome hallmark of his for years now, but, as much as Origin depicts how much the still-young Indonesian man has developed since the 2015 release of his first album, My Favorite Things, it also displays how his various talents have grown by leaps and bounds since then. This Mack Avenue label debut intimates he will continue to evolve in a similarly dramatic fashion as time goes on. 

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