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New jazz from a child prodigy and a venerable drummer


Joey Alexander, "Countdown" (Motema)

It's a funny thing about child prodigies. As good as they are, there's usually a moment -- a passage here, an awkward pause there where invention won't come -- when close and experienced listeners can hear when a lack of experience and knowledgeable depth can't be hidden.

And now try pianist Joey Alexander on this record in that venerable writer's and listener's institution, the Blindfold Test. Play Alexander's opening Ahmad Jamalian composition "City Lights" for an experienced jazz fan without preparation. Or his version of John Coltrane's uptempo virtuoso test "Countdown." And then, after that Alexander's version of Herbie Hancock's great tune "Maiden Voyage" with monster soprano saxophonist Chris Potter. And then Alexander's gorgeous solo version of Charlie Chaplin's sublimely wistful "Smile."

And then tell your poor under-informed listener that they've just been listening to a 13-year old Balinese kid. And yes, this is his second record already. He was all of 8 years old when Herbie Hancock first heard him in Indonesia. Hancock's encouragement turned him into the prodigy he is. By now, his appearances on "The Today Show," "60 Minutes," CNN,  and "Ellen DeGeneres" have made as many new friends for jazz as they have for wunderkinder everywhere. The players on this record are fully engaged with a terrific young musical talent, not a show-offy young freak. And these are some great players  --  Potter, bassist Larry Grenadier  and drummer Ulysses Owen Jr. Quite literally in every way, this CD is wonderful.

3 1/2 stars (out of four)

Rudy Royston Trio, "Rise of Orion" (Greenleaf)

Rudy Royston is one of the better jazz drummers around. What happens on this pianoless trio record produced by the estimable Dave Douglas is that Royston's polyrhythmic omni-drums undergird power bass playing by Yasushi Nakamura and soloing by ubiquitous saxophonist Jon Irabagon. Royston is clearly proving here that he's a leader and composer and not just a powerfully propulsive drummer. These compositions are all his and they're nothing if not personal. One is dedicated to his mother, another, he claims, uses melodies that come from his young son when he's playing with his Lego monsters. A crisp powerhouse of a jazz record.

3 1/2 stars (out of four)


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