Following four critically acclaimed albums for Motéma Music, 16-year-old piano prodigy Joey Alexander makes his major-label debut with 2020's Warna. A translation of the word "color" from the Indonesian-born Alexander's native language of Bahasa, Warna showcases his rich harmonic sophistication and lithe improvisational skills. Joining Alexander are his trio bandmates veteran bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Kendrick Scott. Together they play with a warmth and sensitivity that feel impressively well-honed. Also adding to the trio's sound are Venezuelan-born percussionist Luisito Quintero, and flautist Anne Drummond, who offer yet more vibrant textures. Like many prodigies, Alexander is something of a virtuoso and his improvisational skills are far beyond his years. And while his spectacular technical abilities do consistently draw focus, there's still a fantastic sense of group interplay on Warna. Many of the songs here, especially originals like "Mosaic [Of Beauty]" and "Downtime," are deceptively uncomplicated compositions built around repeated motifs and kinetic grooves which Alexander then subtly expands upon, his sparkling chords dancing against the pulse of Grenadier and Scott's rhythm section in a poetic give-and-take. Alexander toured alongside Ramsey Lewis in the years leading up to Warna, so it comes as little surprise that much of the sound on the record feels reminiscent of the piano icon's soulful style. Along with Alexander's originals, he offers equally compelling readings of Sting's "Fragile," Joe Henderson's "Inner Urge," and an intensely lyrical album-closing take on "My Funny Valentine." One of the most impressive aspects of Alexander's playing is that, despite being virtuosic, his abilities never overshadow the presentation of the music. It's easy to forget just how young he is while listening to Warna, and to simply get lost in the beauty of the music.
AllMusic Review by Matt Collar