By Michael J. West | Published June 2018
Joey Alexander’s genius was beyond question at 10; at 14 it only has deepened. On Eclipse, he ekes more imagination and nuance out of the piano than ever before. At the very least, then, his fourth album is a fine mainstream piano-trio record. Yet, when it comes to soul, Alexander presents a question mark.
“Bali,” Alexander’s album opener, expresses fondness and warmth as much as it does his own fluency and ingenuity. His “Eclipse” evinces intrigue and tension, both emotional and harmonic/rhythmic, and his solo take on Bill Evans’ “Time Remembered” emphasizes the song’s mystery and its lyricism—with a half-step trill, descending through three tonal centers, executed at just the right moment.
However, the pianist also makes questionable harmonic choices on the Beatles’ “Blackbird,” and takes liberties on “Moment’s Notice” that were meant to be subtle, but are glaring—rather basic lapses in taste that serve as reminders of his youth. His composition “Peace” is derivative of “Danny Boy,” and if his solos on “Bali” and “Eclipse” are impressive, they’re also somewhat hollow; it’s bassist Reuben Rogers’ solos on both that are moving.
Ageism is almost certainly a factor in appreciation of Eclipse. Alexander seems more mature at some points, in ways difficult to reconcile with a 14-year-old’s experience. Do his pretty ways with “The Very Thought Of You” or “Blackbird” translate to earned wisdom about romance or triumph over adversity? Then again, can any artist truly convey these emotions? If Eclipse forces listeners to explore these vital questions, perhaps that’s enough.
Eclipse: Bali; Faithful; Draw Me Nearer; Moment’s Notice; Blackbird; Eclipse; Fourteen; The Very Thought Of You; Space; Time Remembered; Peace. (60:13)
Personnel: Joey Alexander, piano; Reuben Rogers, bass; Eric Harland, drums; Joshua Redman, tenor saxophone (2, 7, 8).