Joe Holt’s Jazz Album is a Creative Blend of Form and Improvisation

By Jeremy Quintin
Staff Columnist

With the Chestertown Jazz Festival coming up this Saturday, Sept. 15, it only seems reasonable that my first review of the year be dedicated to one of the many great performers who will be bringing the zest of live jazz into the usually calm air of this town. I’d like to introduce to everyone the jazz piano styles of Joe Holt, and his latest album, “In the Spirit of Dave McKenna.”

Holt is an improvisational pianist specializing in swing music, equipped with his own creative compositional style of fast-paced freestyle jams. Dave McKenna is Holt’s inspiration to perform music in the first place, hence the shout out to one of the most masterful pianists that ever lived.

In his spirit, Holt has put together an amazing album that tests the very limits of his abilities. Each song is that of a complex melodic jam session that showcases impressive dexterity in performance and ingenuity in style. This is heard in Holt’s intensive use of shuffle notes on every one of his tracks. This technique of playing notes with the same beat count at uneven intervals characterizes the swing and jazz generations of music. A good swing rhythm will have a large variety of back and forth play between every note, crowding together and running apart, going all around the piano in the same way a cartoon cat and mouse might bust out some mad grooves in an accidental pursuit.

In fact, I’m pretty confident one of Holt’s hands wants to eat the other, as they have quite the habit of chasing each other’s paths during any of his live performances. Yet the complexity of his handwork does not change the quality of his music, instead improving it with the impressive melodic designs of a clear expert.

Outside of style, all of Holt’s songs are artistic reinterpretations of classic hits. For example, the first song on his album, “I’ve Got Rhythm,” is a call to George Gershwin’s which Holt conveys with a great re-envisioning of the tune. Holt sneaks in a other famous notes of nostalgia, such as Popeye’s iconic theme popping up midway through the tune.

There’s no doubt that there are even more references to tunes than I can count or even recognize throughout his various renditions. “Puttin’ on the Ritz” makes reference to the Inspector Gadget Theme, Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, Hall of the Mountain King, and Sing Sing Sing, among many others for which I’ll be kicking myself over the next three weeks for not remembering.

Holt’s style is very impressive. However, in the same way that a kid performing acrobatics on a swing set has completely forgotten just how far away the ground is, Holt risks a swing so intense that he nearly falls off beat with the rhythm itself. That is, he almost does. That’s what makes Holt such an amazing performer: he’s able to stay on his seat despite the crazy tricks he pulls.

Holt also likes to dramatically change up the tempo nine times in a single song, often switching all at once, and sometimes within single bar intervals. While creative, this can be incredibly jerking, almost distracting, from the rhythmic aspect of his music. As a result, notes can come across .as disposable fodder in the quick succession of his tunes. This however is a problem that rarely crops up amongst his otherwise wicked skills of hand wizardry.All in all, I definitely recommend his album to all the jazz lovers on campus.

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