This young pianist-composer revisits the stride piano sound of the roaring 20s on a set of classics and originals with charm to spare
Among a small avalanche of new piano albums, all of them brilliant, this one from the New York-based Emmet Cohen stands out because it has the rare and elusive quality of charm. All 10 pieces are perfectly serious, but not solemn; there are little eccentricities and the occasional wink. The “stride” of the title number refers to a piano style that evolved in 1920s Harlem, and the piece features bursts of stride barging into passages of later styles. It’s funny and must be fiendishly difficult to play; likewise the Tom and Jerry exchanges with bassist Russell Hall and drummer Kyle Poole.
By contrast, there is Reflections at Dusk, a Cohen original including saxophonist Melissa Aldana and trumpeter Marquis Hill, that conjures the mood nicely. My particular favourite is Cohen’s treatment of the old Dixieland classic Dardanella, in which he concentrates on the melody, taking it from tinkling lightness to thunderous roar and back again. Always there’s a moment when he catches you, just as you think you know what’s coming. There are two beautiful ballads here, Second Time Around and My Heart Stood Still, but watch out for the endings – they made me laugh, anyway.