Something old and something new this week for jazz. Oct 10 marked the birth centenary of the legendary Thelonious Monk.
So it is entirely apt that a fresh new voice in jazz piano, Joey Alexander, has dropped a surprise new album, recorded live at Jazz At Lincoln Center's Appel room in June, dedicated to the music of the master.
Monk's angular notes, asymmetric rhythms and spare melodies are much beloved by jazz fans. An album of Monk standards is something of a milestone for budding piano talents. Alexander is more impressive than most, especially considering he is only 14 years old.
My review of his previous album, 2016's Countdown, noted his emotional acuity. This follow-up showcases his cerebral side.
His delivery of Monk classics such as Round Midnight and Straight, No Chaser shows this Indonesia-born prodigy to be a keen close reader of Monk's music.
Round Midnight gets an almost Bach-like introduction that builds in unhurried, intricate steps before the famous melody line finally kicks in more than two minutes into the tune.
Similarly, Straight, No Chaser gets a from-left-field, sunnily bluesy cascade introduction before bassist Scott Colley and drummer Willie Jones III leap in for a stylishly strutting take on the tune.
A great sampler of what this astonishingly mature talent may dish out at his upcoming gig at the Esplanade on Nov 7.
Ong Sor Fern
Singaporean conductor Darrell Ang has been busy in the recording studio. Here, he conducts London's Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in Tchaikovsky's evergreen First Piano Concerto, recordings of which number in the hundreds. He does a fine job in marshalling the forces to support young Romanian pianist Alexandra Dariescu, who is no slouch herself.
TCHAIKOVSKY PIANO CONCERTO NO. 1 TCHAIKOVSKY-PLETNEV NUTCRACKER SUITE
Alexandra Dariescu, Piano
Royal Philharmonic/Darrell Ang
Signum Classics 441
This is an idiomatic reading of a well-worn warhorse that does not seek to shock and awe by presenting so-called new insights or vastly divergent viewpoints.
Instead musicality reigns and its visceral thrills and spills are splendidly judged and presented. It is thus well worth many listens.
It is coupled with a suite of seven dances and scenes from Tchaikovsky's ballet The Nutcracker transcribed by the Russian pianist-conductor Mikhail Pletnev. These are highly virtuosic takes on very familiar music.
Dariescu gets her hands full in the March and Trepak (Russian Dance), which are far more treacherous than one imagines on paper.
Her playing does not eclipse Pletnev's own stupendous recording (on Melodiya), but she gets to the heart of the music with suitable panache.
Listen to the closing Andante Maestoso (the famous Pas De Deux) for one of Tchaikovsky's most heart-rending and rapturous melodies.
Chang Tou Liang