New albums by Joey Alexander, Alan Choo and more

Pianiest Joey Alexander and violinist Alan Choo are back with new music, along with other musicians.
Pianiest Joey Alexander and violinist Alan Choo are back with new music, along with other musicians. ST PHOTO: JOANNE KWA & WASIN PRASERTLAP

Thirteen-year-old jazz piano sensation Joey Alexander evinces a musical and emotional maturity that is well beyond his years.

Just as his debut Grammy-nominated album, My Favourite Things, made bold statements about his musical intentions, sophomore album Countdown is Alexander staking his claim on jazz territory.

He throws down the gauntlet with two original compositions which open the album - a bouncy, Latin-inflected number, City Lights, and the gospel-tinged Sunday Waltz. Both are solid compositional efforts - the first evoking the bustle of New York where he is based and the latter tipping its hat to the New Orleans roots of jazz and the smooth radio-friendly time- change experiments of Dave Brubeck.

This is becoming another signature of this adventurous musician - his conscious and conscientious nods to the jazz giants who have come before him. It is evident in the programming, which includes gems such as the less-frequently- played John Coltrane number, Countdown, sitting comfortably alongside Thelonious Monk's delightful Criss Cross.

  • JAZZ


    Joey Alexander


    4/5 stars

It is exhilarating to listen to Alexander's emotional acuity. Listen to his embrace of the fulsome depths of Billy Strayhorn's Chelsea Bridge and his apt quotation of Somewhere Over The Rainbow as a melancholic introduction to an introspective take on Smile.

Ong Sor Fern

Here is a neat collection of short pieces for violin and piano from that "golden generation" of Singaporean composers born in the 1980s to early 1990s.



    Alan Choo, violin

    Lin Hengyue, piano

    SG50 Celebration Fund

    4.5/5 stars

The best-known of the five composers featured is Chen Zhangyi, who was the first local composer to be commissioned by the Singapore Symphony Orchestra for its overseas concert tours since the 1980s. His Sandcastles is dreamy, while Ground from his single-act opera, Window Shopping (for solo piano), ambles like a jazzy improvisation.

Phang Kok Jun, a favourite of the Singapore Chinese Orchestra, offers two solos: Hustle Bustle (violin) rustles with a frenetic Paganini- like quality, while Wind Chimes (piano) resounds in the tintinnabulation of bells.

Chew Jun An's Lucid Dreamer conjures a sense of isolation, while the pentatonic tune, In The Wind, A Lonely Leaf (violin), takes on a life of its own through its discursive 10 minutes. Tan Yuting's still and evocative Water uses recorded sounds and Fantasy Lights captures a dazzling nocturnal view of the skyline from the Singapore Flyer.

Wynne Fung's In A Quiet Grey lyrically fantasises on clouds and skies and ponders on their ephemeral nature. National Violin Competition champion Alan Choo possesses the technical know-how to match the thorniest of scores and his sympathetic partnership with pianist Lin Hengyue scores on all counts.

Chang Tou Liang

If there were a composer who fathered a distinctive “Australian sound” in music, it would be Tasmania- born Peter Sculthorpe (1929- 2014). His music sympathetically combined 20th-century modernism with Asian (particularly Japanese and Balinese) and Australian Aboriginal influences. His output for piano, dating from 1945 to 2011, reflects that eclecticism and exoticism.



    Tamara-Anna Cislowska, piano

    ABC Classics

    481 1181 (2 CDs)

    4.5/5 stars

In this complete edition, there are first performances of his juvenilia, mostly short tonal pieces from his years of study at the Melbourne Conservatory. A more personal voice is later heard in his Sonatina (1954) and Sonata (1963).

The Japanese influence comes in Night Pieces (1971), Landscape (1971), Koto Music I & II (1973 & 1976), while his stock-in-trade Aboriginal sound is best appreciated in Djilile (1986), Nocturnal (1983/89) and Harbour Dreaming (2000).

His Little Passacaglia (2004) was written in memory of the victims of the 2002 Bali bombings, while his final and longest work, Riverina (2011), is a summation of all his styles in five movements, including a quote from Home Sweet Home and the Chinese song, Molihua.

Australian pianist Tamara-Anna Cislowska has lived with Sculthorpe’s music since her early teens and is a most persuasive advocate.

Chang Tou Liang

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 19, 2016, with the headline 'Hot Tracks'. Print Edition | Subscribe