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Artist Profile, Austin Peralta's Legendary Spacewalk

Image: Flavio Scorsato
Image: Flavio Scorsato

There exists a sound in contemporary jazz, one that has existed for around a decade or so, where strident piano chirps mingle with bubbling electronic blips and bloops, celestial sonic atmospheres are brushed with delicate, avant-bop flavourings whilst different rhythmic devices converge in a hyperactive musical flight. Initiating the world in this forward-thinking sound was the teenage jazz wunderkind, pianist Austin Peralta.

His father, professional skateboarder Stacy Peralta, was pivotal in introducing the modern concept of the ‘skate video’ to the world – but Austin’s being touched by a sense of reinvention was more than just an initial family streak. Seemingly destined for greatness, the young Peralta first approached piano at the tender age of 5, striving towards a classical mastery of his instrument before being turned on to Bill Evans in his early adolescence. And, look, we’re well aware that the notion of a ‘child prodigy’ can easily be seen as something corny and derivative. But think, how many teenagers do you know of who have played with Chick Corea and Hank Jones whilst still attending school?

Things where going smoothly for the gifted youngster when, in 2006, he released his debut album, Maiden Voyage. This trio recording, formed alongside Billy Kilson and Ron Carter (yes, that Ron Carter) along with a further album, Mantra, combining jazz standards with original material from the same year would mark a steady but exclusive back-to-back run of successes on the Japanese market. Back home, however, Peralta was making waves on his local scene, hanging tight while striking up rapport with a local crew of visionary jazzheads. This posse, which at the time comprised figures such as Thundercat, Kamasi Washington and Flying Lotus, was pivotal in the construction of the intrepid West Coast style that landed somewhere between astral jazz and progressive R&B during the late noughties and early teens. 

Image: Dazed
Image: Dazed

It was on Flying Lotus' own Brainfeeder label that these key players were first brought together. The electronics-grounded imprint of artists very quickly began to make room for a swathe of jazz musicians and their fusion creations, already well at home within the label’s psychedelic remit. If there’s something to be said of the consciousness that lies at the heart of these performers and their music, it's that their collective arrival came at exactly the right time jazz was ready to be rebooted and rediscovered by the internet age. It’s even hard to imagine Kendrick Lamer’s era-defining masterwork, To Pimp a Butterfly (2015), without their contributions. 

And, that's where we get to Peralta's masterwork. From the outside, Endless Planets resembles a straight-forward piano jazz album, to put it superficially. But, as we know, planetary surfaces come in all shapes and sizes, be they rock, ice or gas. Upon further examination, the album's many ingredients indicate a unique and enigmatic bright spark, one responsible for igniting a veritable jazz explosion and injecting it with a shot of punk-rock-infused adrenaline, for good measure. Unlike his previous two albums (which were released in his early teens), Peralta was by now in control of his artistic vision, making note of the direction in which his creative voice had grown – the span of which he was keen to flex. Its mythical tracklisting chronicles a kind of spiritual voyage, no doubt a very personal statement from the pianist who would always attest to the life-enhancing powers of music. And its personnel – a younger band this time round, and closer in origin to Peralta’s Southern Californian background – contribute to what at times can feel like an intergalactic road trip shared between a couple of warm buddies. 

Peralta’s skyrocketing career sadly ended with his passing at the age of 22. Who’s to say what achievements he would undoubtedly have gone on to score; better to reflect on the substantial ground he covered in his short but productive run, rather than the unknowable lengths he soon indeed may have reached. For the final word, we'll live you with a clip taken from his last performance, below: 

Available Format: 2 Vinyl Records