Wednesday, July 5, 2023

Atlanta Pianist Joe Alterman and his Trio Plays the Music of Les McCann 0n Big Mo and Little Joe

Atlanta-based pianist Joe Alterman will release his latest album "Joe Alterman Plays Les McCann: Big Mo and Little Joe" this August. The talented thirty-four-year-old pianist continues on his quest to preserve, honor, and contemporize the music created by some of jazz music's often overlooked elders of the last era.

Alterman has an affable persona that along with his considerable pianistic skills just bubbles with joy and enthusiasm. He attended school at NYU, achieving a BA and Master's in jazz piano from 2007-2012. Along the way, Alterman never lost sight of the tradition. He befriended artists like Ramsey Lewis, Houston Person, Ahmad Jamal, Hank Jones, and Jimmy Heath, carefully listening and where possible acquiring mentor-like relationships that served to inspire and influence his own musical growth. He also credits his invaluable teacher/student relationship with the keyboard artist Don Friedman who took him under his veteran wing at NYU.

On this album, Alterman has chosen to honor another of his mentors. Les McCann is a blues/soul-based pianist/singer that is known for his trio piano work. One record "Stormy Blues" from 1962 features the young vocalist Lou Rawls and is a classic. McCann's  epic work with the saxophonist Eddie Harris generated the protest bellwether "Compared to What." 

Alterman befriended the wheelchair-bound McCann (the pianist suffered a stroke in 1995) when he opened for the artist at the Blue Note in 2012 and the two continued the conversation ever since.

Alterman thought McCann's compositions needed to be revisited and get the respect he thought they deserved. From this dedicated belief comes the new album Joe Alterman Plays Les McCann: Big Mo and Little Joe where Little Joe chooses ten of McCann's ( Big Mo’s) less-known compositions and the finale is a ballad that Alterman co-wrote with McCann. Alterman is ably backed by Kevin Smith on bass and Justin Chesarek on drums, two of ATL’s serious journeymen musicians, and the trio shows they can certainly swing. 

Alterman is a technically efficient player who utilizes an array of pianistic skills that include brilliant glissando runs, gospel-inspired get-downs, barrelhouse honky-tonk, shivering tremolos, to earthy blues riffs. Alterman always abides by some advice given to him by master pianist Ahmad Jamal who once told him “Technique without soul is meaningless.” The man oozes with soul and his genuine joy when playing makes listening to him infectiously uplifting.

The music includes music from many of McCann’s different phases the house-raising “Gone on and Get That Church,” the funky “Someday We’ll Meet Again,” the rousing “Could Be,” The Erroll Garner-like “The Strangler,” the Gospel inspired “Beaux J Poo Boo,” “Samia” a ballad from the McAnn/Harris electric days, the disco driven “Ruby Jubilation” from McCann’s 1977 Music Lets Me Be, the groovin’ “It’s You,” the achingly moving “Dorene Don’t Cry,” McCann’s swinging tribute to his father “Big Jim,” and the poignant co-written ballad “Don’t Forget to Love Yourself.” 

This is the kind of record you might have a favorite
one or two, but to me, you can just drop the needle
on the record player, load your cd player, or stream
it on your device, whatever, and let this album rip and my bet is you’ll never be disappointed. If you want to keep the groove going you might even spin it again just to keep the vibe from fading. It’s nice to see a young man like Joe Alterman doing his part to revitalize and honor the tradition of his musical elders and doing it so well.

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