Joe Alterman, Big Mo & Little Joe Review

Joe Alterman's Tribute to Les McCann: Big Mo & Little Joe


Joe Alterman, Big Mo & Little Joe Review

Joe Alterman’s Tribute to Les McCann: Big Mo & Little Joe 

by Nolan DeBuke

Joe-Alterman-The-Jazz-Word-CDGreetings, jazz aficionados and seekers alike. Welcome to a journey through Joe Alterman’s latest offering, Joe Alterman Plays Les McCann: Big Mo & Little Joe. This album is more than a collection of songs; it’s a harmonic confluence, capturing the rich tapestry of friendship and mentorship between Alterman and jazz legend Les McCann. As modern jazz continues to evolve, much like a sapling nurtured by an older, wiser tree, Alterman’s luminous style is a testament to McCann’s indelible legacy. The essence of their relationship is deeply rooted in this masterfully crafted album.

If one could distill the essence of a mentor-mentee relationship into acoustic textures and chromatic scales, it would sound like this album. The emotional narrative is strong and unequivocal. The relationship between McCann and Alterman isn’t just allegro on a stave; it’s a musical conversation between generations that moves at the tempo of life’s rich emotional spectrum, resonating with empathic harmonies much like the dialogue between treble and bass clefs on an intricate chart.

The opening track serves as a mouthwatering appetizer, blending jazz blues with a generous dash of gospel seasoning. Kevin Smith’s bass and Justin Chesarek’s drums add a robust richness, akin to the complex roux at the base of a New Orleans gumbo. Taking the role of chef de cuisine in this musical ensemble, Alterman offers a melody as fragrant as freshly torn basil. His solo weaves in rhythmic intricacies that add both spice and sweetness to the auditory feast. From the get-go, the trio plunges in with gusto: Alterman’s well-measured single notes swing mightily, forming a harmonious synergy with the rhythmic energy that Smith and Chesarek bring to the table.

“Someday We’ll Meet Again,” opens with Alterman delicately introducing a bluesy motif, reminiscent of a connoisseur savoring the first sip of vintage wine. This initial touch sets the stage for a composition as intricate and satisfying as a well-crafted gourmet dish. Each motif unveiled acts as a carefully chosen ingredient, contributing to a progressively richer and more complex musical flavor profile. Chesarek and Smith join the ensemble, infusing the composition with gospel-tinged straight eights that create a wide pocket, as the piece seamlessly transitions through various moods and textures.

Alterman expertly adjusts his touch on the piano, bringing out the unique character and emotional undertones of each section. When it comes to his solo, Alterman revisits the initial bluesy motif, transforming it through elegant augmentations and diminutions. His solos are a captivating journey through jazz blues vocabulary, and it’s his patient commitment to developing these motifs that stands out as the most enjoyable aspect of his performance. The whole experience is like watching a master chef folding whipped cream into a luxurious mousse: airy, yet dense, and utterly captivating.

Alterman’s touch lightens in “Ruby Jubulation,” like a sommelier switching from a robust Cabernet to a delicate Riesling. His improvisational ideas germinate from the seed of the original melody, blooming into intricate musical flowers that grow organically throughout the song. Chesarek’s percussive nuances and Smith’s bass tone are the fertile soil nurturing these blooms. Their conversation is like a carefully aged scotch—both smooth and complex, revealing new undertones with each listen.

The musicality is not just in the notes but between them. The elasticity of time and the density of harmonic progression make this album a standout in ensemble synergy. As Mark Gridley notes in ‘Jazz Styles: History and Analysis,’ the complexities of jazz are often best appreciated in the subtle dialogues between musicians. This album serves as a vivid example to that observation. Much like a well-tended garden requires knowledge of soil pH levels and water retention, so too does jazz necessitate an understanding of each component’s unique characteristics.

Big Mo & Little Joe represents more than a tribute; it is an intimate reimagining of McCann’s oeuvre. It adds a noteworthy paragraph to the long dissertation of jazz history, emphasizing the importance of mentorship—a mentorship that, like the acacia in my garden, provides shade, support, and an enduring legacy.

The album nestles comfortably in the present-day jazz mosaic, a canvas constantly redrawn but forever rooted in tradition. It showcases how the genre, much like the ivy in my garden, can climb and adapt, remaining evergreen yet consistently reaching for new heights.

So pour a glass of your finest, drop the needle on this record, and join us in a toast to the ever-evolving, ever-inspiring world of jazz. In the words of Les McCann, Alterman might be “tiny, but only in stature.” Within Big Mo & Little Joe, his musical reach is expansive, adding his unique signature to the legacy of the jazz greats who came before him.

1 Comment

  1. I am a McCainn fan
    Would see in Oakland with Eddie Harris

    You have some similar sounds

    Nice job
    Thanks for the tunes

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