Joe Alterman comes home to new, feel-good jazz
Joe Alterman - Topic

Pianist Joe Alterman is most memorable when he loses himself in the rhythm of a good, old-fashioned, group jazz session. On the Atlanta native’s new album, Comin’ Home To You, there’s plenty of that going on through 11 tracks, two of them originals.

Formerly based in New York, Alterman maintains the Southern charm, hospitality, and wide-eyed innocence of his youth in his songs, whether they’re pop, Motown, country covers, or a bluesy-jazz romp way outside the Dixie line.

Released in 2016, Comin’ Home To You features the jazz favorite in a bare-bones, straight-ahead jazz group of drums, bass, and his fine, piano-leading self telling tales and remembering love.

Bassists Nathaniel Schroeder and Scott Glazer, and drummers Doug Hirlinger and Justin Chesarek join Alterman on a spirited good time. But Alterman remains firmly seated at the center of the party, driving his hypnotic upbeats and finding the emotional layers in whatever the band’s up to next.

Album highlights include covers of Hall & Oates’ 1970s pop hit, “Sara Smile” — talk about a smoking hypnotic upbeat that just won’t quit, soul-jazz pianist (and mentor) Les McCann’s “Fish This Week” from 1960, and “Whatever It Is,” made country famous by the Zac Brown Band in 2008.

“Fish This Week But Next Week Chitlings” jumps around like popcorn in the fryer, old-fashioned but not old, with a rare look at Schroeder’s bass dancing in tandem with Hirlinger’s drums, around Alterman’s curling, bluesy-jazz fire.

Zac Brown’s “Whatever It Is” is Henry Fonda and Dave Grusin’s “On Golden Pond,” in jazz language, a well-rested, hands-together memorial of all that’s beautiful and good, and fleeting, in the world. Extremely lyrical, extremely melodic, extremely complete.

You can almost hear Alterman singing Zac Brown’s lyrics on the piano, “She’s got eyes that cut you like a knife and lips that taste like sweet red wine, and her pretty legs go to heaven every time.” Only Alterman focuses primarily on the heavenly parts, as he’s into glorious not prurient — a Southern gentleman to the end.

Comin’ Home To You continues Joe Alterman’s softened, humanized jazz statement made in his 2015 release, Georgia Sunset.

His trio plays Birdland in New York 6 p.m. March 12.