By Marvin Leon Lake, Virginian-Pilot
Musically speaking, 20-something jazz pianist Justin Kauflin is an old soul. Talented beyond his years, the blind wunderkind has been channeling the muses of established jazz artists as well as his personal ones for some time. Now Kauflin, a graduate of Salem High School in Virginia Beach who has amazed audiences in Hampton Roads and elsewhere, has released his first CD. It's a fine showcase of Kauflin's impressive musicianship in a variety of styles, and testimony to his composing and producing talents. He wears all three hats on this nine-track CD, recorded last year in New Jersey and mastered at Master Sound Studios in Virginia Beach.
The music - from boppish to contemporary jazz to hymns - shifts effortlessly between a trio format - with Kauflin, drummer Billy Williams and bassist Phil Kuehn - and quartet formats - with either drummer Etan Haziza or saxophonist Tim Green added. Kauflin contributes three original tunes, including Lucid Thoughts" and Three for Glasper," a nod to fellow young jazz pianist Robert Glasper, one of his influences.
There's a sweet empathy and synergy to the music. The Billy Williams- penned The Covenant" features a mini-piano intro, with Green soloing beautifully on alto sax, then the guys providing the perfect backdrop for Kauflin's fleet-fingered improvisational piano. As for hymns, two fine Irish-inspired tracks highlight Kauflin's improvisational lyricism - Be Thou My Vision" and the gentle Abide With Me."
There's a romp, Delfeayo's Dilemma," featuring Green's racing alto sax, and an interesting, at times almost unrecognizable, take on the Beatles' classic A Day in the Life." I predict a great future for Kauflin. Don't be surprised if a top jazz label snaps him up.