Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Eric Alexander and Some Hard Blowing Tenor, 1997

In the spring of 1997 Eric Alexander was around 27 years old when he went into Riverside Studios in Chicago to record Mode for Mabes (Delmark). An excellent group was assembled for the date, especially with the presence of piano master Harold Mabern, one of Eric's mentors and of course a giant of the hard swinging approach to modern jazz. It was a sextet with Jim Rotondi's trumpet and Steve Davis' trombone to flesh out the front line with that classic full sound that Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, for example, brought to the music.

Allusions to Blakey's ensembles seem appropriate, since Mode for Mabes hits the ground hard with a set of kicking tunes that are in the lineage of the best of the tradition Art was most associated with. And so also Mr. Mabern, of course.

The title cut (co-written by Eric and Jim Rotondi) gives notice that this is most certainly NOT going to be a set to send you off to dreamland. They are here to play, and that they do. From the appealing originals to the standards and a version of Trane's "Naima," the music locks in and stays there.

It is amazing how accomplished Eric Alexander was by the time these sides were cut. To mix metaphors, he had ground down the rough edges of his technique and harnessed a fertile inventive imagination to create a tenor style with its feet planted firmly in modern tradition, but with the indelible stamp of Alexandrian panache. He's in good company with the terrifically limber solos of Mabern, Rotondi and Davis.

More than ten years later we can listen to Mode for Mabes and recognize the classic nature of the music. It sounds wonderful today and surely has to be counted as one of the milestones of Eric Alexander's recorded output. Get it and groove!

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