The Late Show's bandleader Jon Batiste shows off musical range with debut solo album

JAZZ

HOLLYWOOD AFRICANS

Jon Batiste

Verve

5 stars

Fans of The Late Show With Stephen Colbert will recognise Jon Batiste, the young bandleader whose hearty chortle can often be heard in response to the host's jokes.

The Juilliard-trained musician gets to show off multiple aspects of his talent - playing and singing - in this debut solo album. And what a showcase it is.

Named for a Jean-Michel Basquiat painting, the album is Batiste's stated tribute to the legendary musicians who have paved the way for him. So the programme, comprising both standards and originals, is a whistle-stop tour of not just jazz, but also dashes of classical and pop.

It opens with a foot-stomping number Kenner Boogie, named for his home town in Louisiana, where the jumping rhythms of boogie-woogie are laid sturdily on a stride piano foundation.

Batiste then takes on Louis Armstrong's What A Wonderful World, a sentimental deathtrap which he revitalises in an astonishing fashion by using his piano as a metronome time-keeper, burnished with the occasional soft chord and startling interjections in a pentatonic scale that lend the song a sudden cosmopolitan flavour.

His third track detours abruptly, but beautifully, into classical territory. Chopinesque is a marvellous technical showpiece that opens with crystalline, atonal single notes that soon cascade into Chopin-style trills and bluesy bars.

These three openers are worth the price of admission, but Batiste also offers a playful tango-timed original Nocturne No. 1 In D Minor and an introspective take, complete with violins, on Green Hill Zone (from the Sonic The Hedgehog computer game for those without a misspent youth).

An impressive melange of musical style worth repeat listens.

Ong Sor Fern

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 18, 2018, with the headline 'Hot tracks'. Print Edition | Subscribe