Darn That Dream: Solo Piano Vol. 1 may be Neil Alexander’s first solo piano album, but if you check out his resume, you’ll see that he has been keeping himself busy with an eclectic mix of other projects. He is the leader of NAIL, a contemporary electric/acoustic jazz ensemble. He plays keyboards in The Mahavishnu Project, a jazz rock descendant of The Mahavishnu Orchestra. He has toured with the Pink Floyd tribute band,The Machine. He has performed works by modern classical masters like Charles Ives, Igor Stravinsky, and John Cage. He has, according to his publicity, composed over 200 works of his own for small ensembles. This is a musician that works at his art.
Besides when you put out an album, call it Darn That Dream, and include not one but two versions of that Van Heusen/DeLange classic etched indelibly in my heart by the Billie Holiday version, you’ve got me hooked from the get-go. He doesn’t disappoint in either of his takes on the tune, either the one that opens the album, or the one that comes just before the end. He takes the song and makes it his own. He also does a nice job with familiar pieces like “My Foolish Heart” and the Pat Metheny composition “Sirabhorn.”
Other than these four, the rest of the 11 tracks on the album are Alexander originals. They include a couple of great ballads—”Stop for a Moment (and Listen)” and the lush “Whisper of Angels.” The latter, which Alexander says he wrote after coming home from the hospital with his wife and new baby, has passages that sound like they’re right out of the Romantic era, but Alexander never lets you forget this is jazz. “A Question of Energy” is a sprawling, up-tempo romp in a contemporary classical mode. His “Blues for Martha (Graham)” is influenced, as its title suggests, by his work with dance companies. “Everyman (The Flight of the Falcon)” has the makings of an anthem. In his notes, Alexander says the tune which he had recorded earlier with Nail “has an Americana vibe.” The album ends with an “Epilogue” for an introspective moment.
“Vol. 1” in the album subtitle is an indication that a volume two is on the way. Alexander has launched a performance series commemorating the centennial of the 1913 premiere of Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps, which nearly caused the furious first night audience to riot in the theater. He has written his own solo piano arrangement of the ballet. His version of the Stravinsky, along with excerpts from the tour, will provide the repertoire for the second volume sometime next year.