Dead Center. What a marvelous title. If young tenor star Eric Alexander isn't "dead center" on his latest album for HighNote Records, it would take an especially sharp-eyed cat with a microscope to notice. Fact is, Alexander has been nailing the target with unerring accuracy for a number of years now, and people are starting to take heed. Not that it makes much difference to Alexander, a throwback to an earlier time when jazz musicians, eager to learn from any source, scurried from gig to gig, staying up all night if necessary, simply because they loved to play and would do so anywhere, anytime at the drop of a downbeat. Even though Alexander doesn't miss much sleep and runs miles each day to stay in shape, that pretty much describes his temperament to a T.
Alexander not only has a large, clean and likable sound, reminiscent of Dexter Gordon or George Coleman, his technique is flawless, he's never at a loss for the proper note or phrase, and he swings like every chorus may be his last. Swinging is what his partners do best too, and you won't find a more attentive or reliable threesome than pianist Harold Mabern, bassist John Webber and drummer Joe Farnsworth, longtime friends and colleagues who have performed regularly with Alexander and recorded with him on a number of occasions. The rapport is secure and unmistakable.
Mabern, who shows no signs of slowing down at age 68, takes the first solo on the opener, Alexander's "One for Steve," a walking blues written for a late fan from Philly, before the leader weighs in with some earnest thoughts of his own. Herbie Hancock's seldom-heard "Sonrisa" is next, followed by a brace of standards, Lerner and Loewe's "Almost Like Being in Love" and the Doris Day hit from the film Romance on the High Seas, Sammy Cahn/Jule Styne's "It's Magic."
Mabern wrote the rhythmic bossa "A Few Miles from Memphis," McCoy Tyner the plaintive ballad "Search for Peace," guitarist Pat Martino the dynamic title selection. The finale, a rapid-fire reading of a second Lerner and Loewe Broadway classic, "I Could Have Danced All Night," is a tour de force for Alexander and his mates, starting in waltz time, then releasing the throttle for scorching statements by Alexander and Farnsworth before stopping on the proverbial dime.
As usual, Alexander hits every note dead center, and in spite of its fair-to-middling fifty-two minute playing time, the album is warmly recommended, as none of those minutes is discounted or squandered.
Personnel: Eric Alexander, tenor saxophone; Harold Mabern, piano; John Webber, bass; Joe Farnsworth, drums.