Picks and Pans Review: Harry Connick Jr.

updated 03/07/1988 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/07/1988 AT 01:00 AM EST

Harry Connick Jr.

There is something irresistibly youthful yet surprisingly mature about the way 19-year-old Harry Connick Jr. plays jazz piano. He gets a bright, clear, optimistic sound from the instrument (a Steinway, but still), and his phrasing and sense of timing are playful and lithe. Yet in this debut album his means of expressing his youthful verve are so varied and polished it's hard to believe he is only 19. He seems to have the technical facility to unleash fusillades of notes, but his style is clear and spare. Such restraint, unusual in a young player, allows him to make every line sing as well as swing. Connick hails from New Orleans, where he was a classmate of some of the Marsalis brothers (Delfeayo produced this album) and studied with their father, Ellis. Jazz styles past and present mingle seamlessly in the Big Easy, and so they do in Connick's music. He may be one of the few pianists under the age of 60 who plays stride, and he does not do it in a florid revivalist way. On Love Is Here to Stay and Sunny Side of the Street, he simplifies the form while keeping it exuberant through melodic paraphrase and subtle rhythmic surprise. His briskly swinging treatment of Thelonious Monk's I Mean You avoids imitation of Monk, and the way he returns to the cascading theme through a series of contemplative tiptoe chords and a zigzag from hand to hand is ingenious. Then there's the delicacy he brings to ballads and the sophisticated harmonies that suggest an absorption of Bill Evans. You don't hear much pain or conflict surging beneath the surface in Connick's music. But if he isn't an angry young man, he is a serious one, and he already has a lot to say. (Columbia)

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