Joey Alexander

(Mack Avenue)

At the core of Origin — Joey Alexander’s Mack Avenue debut and his first all-originals album — lies a quadrangle of compositions inspired by the changing seasons. In his approach to such conceptual writing, Alexander could have crafted impressionistic program music, and a listener would be forgiven for any expectations based on the album’s song titles. But the pianist’s strong heads challenge our usual thinking about certain musical tropes: Isn’t fall also exhilarating and life-affirming? Can’t winter be active and heated? Isn’t spring kinda sad sometimes? All of these antithetical notions make their way into Alexander’s musical understanding of his subjects.

Thus the rhythmic imperative between bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Kendrick Scott on “Dear Autumn” asserts a kinetic positivity; the fleeting harmonic friction in Gilad Hekselman’s guitar on “Winter Blues” enflames; the somber acoustic vibe on “Promise Of Spring” gives meditative pause; and the vibrant motion of “Summer Rising,” an electronic face-off between Hekselman and Alexander, swells voluptuously.

But Alexander’s stated intent, in laying down the 10 tunes for Origin, was this: to manifest hope amid the pandemic gloom. This intent, more than any thematic concept, is what gives the album its compositional cohesion.

Alexander’s optimism is not absolute, however. On the abbreviated closing track, “Hesitation,” he moves away from the resolution of the final cadence — a joke, he explains, that underscores the uncertainty of the future.

On Sale Now
January 2023
Fred Hersch & esperanza spalding
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