Alex Koo – Etudes for Piano
(W.E.R.F Records. Album review by Dick Hovenga (*) )
Flanders has a decades-long history of producing exceptionally good musicians, particularly in jazz. There are too many notable keyboardists to mention but Bram de Looze and Alex Koo belong to the current group of outstanding young players. On Etudes for Piano, we find Koo completely solo at the grand piano.
It is mainly their musical conceptions that make both de Looze and Koo so special. Always opting for adventure and challenge, for both themselves and the listener, they rise unstoppably, fearlessly blurring any boundaries between classical and jazz. Their training is classical, jazz their great love, and they revel in the freedom of jazz to blend with the richness in melody and technique of classical music. Consequently, something special and new emerges on Etudes for Piano.
As a student at the NYU Steinhardt, Koo played with the New York jazz giants, saxophonist Mark Turner and trumpeter Ralph Alessi, sowing the seeds for a great career. Already technically very gifted, he continues to grow so fast as a musician that it’s mind-boggling.
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Etudes for Piano is a solo piano album like no other. Commissioned by the Bozar concert hall in Brussels, Koo wrote eight rich compositions that show why he is a giant on the piano. His fabulous technique, sounding downright genius at times, is the basis for this dizzying tour de force of an album. He is also a superbly original composer.
Balancing between jazz and classical, often extending into the contemporary, Koo creates a musical world that is challenging and both melancholic and downright exciting. From the classic opening sounds of “All Arms on Deck!” to the emotive album finale, “DbREAM”, Koo takes the listener on a musical rollercoaster.
The way he takes the simple idea behind “Variations on The Easiest Song in The World” into a new musical world is definitely the work of a great pianist.
Even on a subdued piece like “Satiesfied”, Koo builds from a classical idea (the compositional influences are quite clear) adding compellingly rich jazz structures with matchless beauty. Closing composition “DbREAM” is full of power and emotion and adds to Etudes for Piano’s singular quality. Everything about this album is right. Koo’s compositions and playing are absolutely world-class. Excellently recorded by Dieter Claeys, it has a sparkling and direct sound. It’s an album that should not go unheard by any jazz fan, an album of unparalleled class.
(*) This is our English version of Dick Hovenga’s review which originally appeared in Dutch on the Written in Music site (LINK).
Alex Koo has a showcase at Jazzahead – LINK