There’s a Stephen Sondheim song — BOUNCE — from the musical of the same name. I heard it many times on Jonathan Schwartz’s show on WNYC-FM. It’s a cynical paean to the ability to re-adapt, to get up off the floor, to reinvent yourself, sung by two brothers who have seen a great deal.
I thought about it, however irrelevantly, when the young jazz pianist Joe Alterman sent me a copy of his debut CD, PIANO TRACKS (VOLUME ONE). Young? He’s twenty-one. Credit for my knowing about Joe is due to the energetic Marc Myers, of JazzWax: read his December 2009 post on Joe here: http://www.jazzwax.com/2009/12/joe-alterman-piano-tracks.html.
Joe admires the lyrical, singing, propulsive styles — they’re timeless — embodied by Hank Jones and other giants.
Joe’s also got his own personal blog, where he writes about meeting Hank Jones and Jimmy Heath, studying with Don Friedman, and more — humble, funny, and to the point. It’s http://joealterman.blogspot.com/
But back to the CD at hand. It was recorded last year, and it is a comfortable kind of music: swinging without being self-conscious, embracing the past without being restricted by “repertory” conventions. Joe is a melodic player — someone who respects the compositions he sets out to play (Arlen, Johnny Green, Styne, Gershwin, Mancini) and is also an adept composer. I’ve heard some contemporary pianists recently who seem to believe that their improvisations must be aggressive to be compelling, so they rampage over the keyboard as if they were annoyed by it. That’s not Joe’s style. He knows the virtue of space, of letting lines breathe. And he knows how to swing naturally in the fashion of Red Garland and Ahmad Jamal. Some of the infectious bounce of this CD is due to bassist Scott Glazer and drummer Justin Varnes (on one track, they are replaced by Sam Selinger and Tiffany Chang), but with all due respect to them, I think Joe could swing on his own. He understands the possibilities within “medium-up-tempo,” and the CD has its own rocking momentum. And several of his originals deserve their own life — the moody THE FIRST NIGHT HOME, and the naughty blues (BEFORE YOU BRING ME MY CORNBREAD) SLAP SOME BUTTER ON THAT BISCUIT, which surely has lyrics waiting to be sung.
You can hear some music from the CD at Joe’s site — click on http://www.joealtermanmusic.com/live/
Sondheim’s song urges us all to “learn how to bounce,” which I know is a commendable skill — but young Joe Alterman already knows how. Welcome!