Youthfulness is pretty easily recognizable in work. Sometimes it comes through in a roughness. Sometimes, it comes through in an antsiness, as if the boundless energy that comes with youth just can’t be contained. Sometimes, it comes through in a need to impress. This young person has ideas that he or she has learned recently and this young person wants to make sure we’re getting all the references. These qualities often shine through in debut releases, particularly from trained jazz musicians. A polish is present only because there’s so much newness, there isn’t much grit to polish away. These attributes can be seen as flaws just as much as they can be seen as strengths, the early promising notes of talent and training that only wait for time. To some degree, it’s still the marvel to witness. One can hear this all over guitarist Aleif Hamdan‘s debut album, Emblem.
The Jakarta, Indonesia, native is a recent graduate of the Berklee School of Music. One can hear “recent music school graduate” rather quickly in the album from the opening skipping notes of “Rooftop Porter”, just beginning to open things up. When “Mistraction” arrives highlighting Jongkuk Kim’s drum soloing and Hamdan putting on his Metheny big boy pants to stretch in the mid-section, it’s admirable and adorable at the same time. “Peak” gets as fusion-y as it wants to with Hamdan getting the real lead out in his playing for some of the most inspired moments on the album and some alright keyboard playing from JennHwan Wong to compliment things, though Wong’s best moments are all throughout the solos of the ballad “Improper Intent”, a song that truly soars in the back end in tandem with Hamdan’s drumming Wong’s piano, and Calem Hensinger’s trumpeting.
There’s a funny thing about debut works. One is looking for the promise of the voice that is to come yet can so transparently see the influences of what made this early voice at present. There will come a time a half decade from now when Hamdan will look back at this early work and hear a musician excited to release these compositions, hear these old classmates and collaborators, some of whom may still work together down the line. It’s a strong early work. These are six quite good original compositions that show great promise for a young musician. This could be the starting point of a promising career if the creative spark here with Hamdan and these fellow musicians remain just as driven.
Emblem, the debut album from guitarist Aleif Hamdan, is out now.
Aleif Hamdan – Guitar
Billy Yeung – Alto Sax (1, 2, 3)
Daniel Ko – Tenor Sax (6)
Caleb Hensinger – Synth/Trumpet (4, 5)
JennHwan Wong – Piano/Rhodes (1, 4, 5, 6)
Jens Sweeting – Piano/Rhodes (2, 3)
Alex Gorchesky – Bass (2, 3, 4, 5)
David Katilius – Bass (6)
Eric Falter – Bass (1)
Jongkuk Kim – Drum Set
Daniel Feldman – Percussion (6)
All music composed and arranged by Aleif Hamdan
Producer – Alek Darson
Co-Producer – Aleif Hamdan
Engineering – Alek Darson
Assistant Engineers – Garry Purohit and Ashwin Shenoy
Mixing and Mastering – Alek Darson at Stretch Recording Studio
Recorded at The Record Company / Perfection Studios – Boston, MA.
Artwork by Jasper Farish
Cover Design by Lydia Renold
Nextbop Editor-in-Chief Anthony Dean-Harris hosts the modern jazz radio show, The Line-Up, Fridays at 9pm CST on 91.7 FM KRTU San Antonio and is also a contributing writer to DownBeat Magazine and the San Antonio Current.