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From Jewish Folk to Jazz Piano

The pianist Joe Alterman is only 23 years old, but on his new album, “Give Me The Simple Life,” he’s managed to round up an impressive array of jazz veterans to play by his side. Houston Person, the soulful tenor saxophonist, joins in on four tracks while bassist James Cammack and drummer Herlin Riley — who both play in Ahmad Jamal’s stellar trio — accompany Alterman throughout.

It’s a lovely record, full of romantic ballads and medium swing numbers — the kinds of standards that are the sine qua non of a traditional piano trio outing like this one.

In his playing, Alterman references — intentionally or not — a number of jazz pianists who worked in outstanding trios. The title track is a good place to start. You’ll find Red Garland block chords, Vince Guaraldi’s left hand stabs and soloing in the upper octaves of the keyboard à la Jamal.

I don’t mean to suggest that Alterman’s sound is mere pastiche; it’s more than that. He seems to be placing himself in an African-American aesthetic lineage that favors hard-swinging rhythms and virtuosity refined by a devotion to melody and the blues. The late Oscar Peterson, whose song, “Kelly’s Blues,” Alterman plays on the album, represents that style well.

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From Jewish Folk to Jazz Piano

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