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Joe Alterman: Piano Tracks, Volume 1

Dan McClenaghan By

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The late Miles Davis had a hand in pushing the standard-playing piano trio out of fashion. The iconic trumpeter's Bitches Brew (Columbia Records, 1970) moved jazz in new and bold directions, and it didn't take long for the piano/bass/drums format to slip into the quaint and old fashioned—and very un-hip—category.

Then along came Keith Jarrett—a Davis modern music alum—and his Standards, Vol. 1 (ECM, 1983) and Vol. 2 (ECM, 1985), shining a light on a concept that had slipped into the shadows with the derisive "cocktail music" tag. The pianist—along with bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Jack DeJohnette—began a revitalization of both the trio sound and The Great American Songbook that continues to this day.

Jarrett's Standards Trio continues to explore this classic music today, as do scores of younger artists like Helen Sung, on Helenistique (Fresh Sound New Talent, 2006), and Greg Reitan, with a Some Other Time (Sunnyside Records, 2009).

Pianist Joe Alterman is fresh face in the piano trio continuum—a young artist with respect for both the tradition and swing in the marrow of his bones, if his debut, Piano Tracks, Volume 1, is any indication.

The influences of the masters can be heard in Alterman's playing, including Hank Jones and Ahmad Jamal, but most directly Red Garland, the man who anchored the rhythm section in Davis' first great quintet. Alterman opens the disc with Jules Styne's "Time After Time," displaying a light, Garland-esque touch, sparkle and easy elegance. George Gershwin's "I've Got a Crush On You" seems to go back even further, to a glorious Art Tatum time, with an easy and insouciant swing.

Alterman plays "I Cover the Waterfront" with a buoyant reverence and freshness, and he gets into an up-tempo, modern-leaning groove on the closer, Henry Mancini's enduring "Days of Wine and Roses."

Five of the sets tunes are standards, and five are Alterman compositions. Of the pianist's originals, "Funk-A-Doodle-Do" is groove-centric and danceable; "While You Were Gone" has an implacable momentum and beautifully lush harmony; and "(Before You Bring Me My Cornbread) Slap Some Butter on That Biscuit" goes down home, for some serious fun.

Piano Tracks, Volume 1 is a superb debut, announcing the arrival of Joe Alterman as a rising jazz star.

Track Listing: Time After Time; Funk-A-Doodle-Doo; I've Got a Crush on You; While You Were Away; The First Night Home; I Cover the Waterfront; Table For Two; (Before You Bring Me My Cornbread) Slap Some Butter on That Biscuit; Last Night when We Were Young; Days of Wine and Roses.

Personnel: Joe Alterman: piano; Scott Glazer: bass (1-4, 6-10); Justin Varnes: drums (1-4, 6-10); Sam Selinger: bass (5); Tiffany Chung: drums (5).

Title: Piano Tracks, Volume 1 | Year Released: 2010 | Record Label: Self Produced


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