Joey Alexander (piano), Dan Chmielinski (double bass) & Willie Jones III (drums)
Reviewed by: Julian Maynard-Smith
Reviewed: 11 November, 2016
Venue: PizzaExpress Jazz Club, Dean Street, Soho, London
Squashed in the corner, lucky to have a barstool (a table? forget it), I reflected that a jazz musician needs serious pulling power to sell out PizzaExpress to punters paying £45 for one hour of music. When it’s your debut UK concert. And you’re thirteen years old.
Yes, thirteen, and only allowed to play one hour, presumably because of some sort of child labour law. Not that this wunderkind from Indonesia and domiciled in New York was fazed by the attention, plunging straight into a self-penned vampy number called ‘Ma Blues’ from his first album. Which, incidentally, was produced when he was eleven and nominated for a Grammy for best instrumental jazz album.
Does Joey Alexander live up to the hype? Oh, yes. When he was only eight he was already being praised by Herbie Hancock, and ever since the praise has been pouring in with the same fluidity he shows in his performances. There’s often a fiery bravura, even a swagger, to his playing – with all that technique in one so young and playing John Coltrane’s ‘Countdown’ as your second number there’s bound to be – but great lyricism and maturity as well.
Praise too for the supple drumming of Willie Jones III (thirty-five years older than his leader) and sinuous bass-playing from Dan Chmielinski (twenty-two years old, I was told by his proud mum, who was sitting on the barstool next to mine). The interplay between the musicians was another sign of Alexander’s maturity, because he knows not to treat his rhythm section as his red carpet but as equals in a subtle interplay of listening and response.
The encore was a lengthy deconstruction of Hancock’s ‘Maiden Voyage’, in which the trio navigated through multiple moods and styles, reinforcing (as if we had any doubts left) that Joey Alexander is the real deal.