Review: Joe Holt’s “In the Spirit of Dave McKenna”

in-spirit of Dave McKenna_coverMusic is one of the universal languages. Most languages include a developed vocabulary to convey information and express ideas. A good vocabulary thickens the plot to the story teller’s yarn. Jazz pianist Joe Holt’s latest solo release, “In the Spirit of Dave McKenna” is a pleasing plethora of usage and depth of that vocabulary, to which Joe masterfully adds a couple words of his own.

Admittedly, even though I am an avid listener of jazz, I am not overly familiar with the work of Dave McKenna, to whom Joe attributes his inspiration for this release. In hearing McKenna for the first time as a teenager, Holt recalls, “I remember the performance vividly. It was one of those moments in life when I grew in understanding what was possible.”

As the title implies “In the Spirit of…” is brimming with clever left-hand walking-bass lines, rhythmic play, and chord changes reminiscent of McKenna’s solo jazz-piano style. However, the story told through these fifteen standards is pure Joe Holt. There is a comforting familiarity surrounding each tune, which gives way effortlessly to Joe’s sweeping sensibility of the jazz vocabulary of both past and present times. Holt weaves a playful tale indeed… there is plot, there is action, there is comic relief, some sentimentality, but mostly there is the evidence of an incredible inner dialog happening as Joe transcends the possibilities from popular tune to improvisational music. Joe is taking us on a magnificent journey here.

You may find yourself reminiscing as you listen; recalling impressions you have of these works, but not getting lost in their nostalgia as Joe’s musical expression elevates — giving new meaning to each tune. (Which is a very good thing as this listener believes nostalgia, no matter how sweet, is merely a distraction from seizing the moment.)

“In the Spirit of Dave McKenna” opens with a wonderfully uplifting and spirited interpretation of the Gershwin tune “I’ve got Rhythm,” which sets the pace for the rest of the journey. You can learn more about Joe and his other releases at, or give a listen. (Link to: