The Joey Alexander Trio
Flynn Center for the Performing Arts
April 22, 2017
Watching and listening to Joey Alexander
perform with his two ultra-sympathetic band mates on the Flynn Center stage April 22nd, it was impossible not to be caught up in the spontaneity of the moment, the immediacy of which is the essence of the live jazz experience.
That said, as the music flowed around and through the trio, it was equally compelling to ponder how much more deeply expressive the ever-so-slight leader of the three will sound ten, twenty or thirty years (or more!?) from now. That said, the fourteen year old prodigy knows his roots, as evidenced by his covers of Thelonious Monk
("Pannonica") and John Coltrane
("Countdown"), but as with his choice to play "My Favorite Things," something of an improvisational standard since the latter-named saxophone colossus made it so, he doesn't just scratch the surface of the tunes, but explore them with able assistance of bassist Alex Claffy and drummer Willie Jones III.
Each member of the rhythm section demonstrated his own unique abilities this spring Saturday night in Burlington. The former digressed from the rounded tones of his initial spotlight to bowing and plucking his double bass later in the evening, while the latter slapped and hammered his way through successive solos of his own as the night progressed. But there was also a definite sense of each man rising to the occasion in order to lift their respective performances to the level of technical expertise, not to mention soul, radiating from their leader.
It's no criticism of Joey Alexander today to suggest how much more engrossing his music will sound as he ages, absorbs a wider range of influences and processes more emotional experience in general. Certainly original compositions of his such as "City Lights" hint at the substantive courage it takes to become a truly brilliant improvisationalist and those moments he stood up from his bench and bend over the keys signaled deep immersion in own playing as well as in his interplay with Claffy and Jones.
So if the rounds of solos and arrangements sounded somewhat formulaic by the end of the ninety-minute set, that's only emblematic of the firm foundation Alexander's putting in place for himself for the future. The bell-like clarity and pinpoint-precision of the notes he hit so regularly throughout the night-not just at the teasing closes at a couple junctures-are indicative of a fundamental poise, crucial to even more open-ended jamming, that can only expand.
But if the mere hints of the blues, altogether a necessity for the bonafide jazz musician, came and went in scant flashes during the body of the concert, it was a fact that the playful encore, an ebullient capper to a show well-received by the near capacity crowd at the MainStage venue, communicated in no uncertain terms that Joey Alexander's greatest talent may be his self-awareness and sensitivity to his surroundings. The winsome timidity in his song introductions this Earth Day evening belied the authority and confidence he otherwise demonstrated on the MainStage of the venerable Vermont performing arts center.