Some albums take days, weeks, even months to record, and even then don't capture the essence of the artist. Not so with Dead Center by tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander, who, while still in his mid-30s, is possessed of such self-assurance and pure intent that one day is all it takes to lay down and preserve everything that he is about. And while contemporaries like Joshua Redman and Chris Potter, fine players both, look for ways to push the tradition forward, Alexander is comfortable maintaining it, asserting that you don't have to subscribe to fashionable trends or overly considered approaches to create music in a genre which, at its best, stays timeless by avoiding the stylistic trappings of any given period.
Sure, there are plenty of jazz recordings which, through use of technologies of the time, seem fixed and dated. And, just as certain, even classic albums like Kind of Blue and A Love Supreme are inextricably linked to their social and political climates and could not have been made at another time. But when stripped of all the surrounding psychobabble, they still sound as fresh and new today as when they were made 40 or more years ago. That's not to say that Alexander's latest disk, Dead Center , is in the same category of "classic" as Coltrane and Miles, but it is one of those albums that is so un-entrenched that it could have been made anytime and, consequently, transcends all time and vogue.
Alexander's roots in Dexter Gordon and George Coleman are not in dispute, but his gregarious style has over the past decade or so evolved to the point where such comparisons are only valid as frames of reference. Alexander has some tricks of his own, including an unusual tremolo that he uses to great effect at the end of his affably swinging version of "It's Magic," and it may or may not be the point, but Dead Center could easily refer to his place directly on the beat, neither lagging like Gordon nor ahead like Coleman.
Joining Alexander on the date is pianist Harold Mabern, who, while never reaching the same level of visibility as his contemporary McCoy Tyner, demonstrates some similar stylistic conceits, but with a lither touch, even when tackling similarly open territory, as he does on the blues-drenched "A Few Miles From Memphis." Bassist John Webber and drummer Joe Farnsworth, like Mabern, are no strangers to working with Alexander, bringing a supple sense of swing that defines the whole record, from the Latin-tinged reading of the rarely-recorded Herbie Hancock composition "Sonrisa" and the firm pulse of "Almost Like Being in Love" to Tyner's jazz waltz "Search for Peace" and Pat Martino's up-tempo title track, appearing here for the first time and featuring one of Martino's trademark stop/start elliptical themes.
Dead Center may not break any barriers, but it does assert that, well-conceived and well-played, the tradition is alive and well and, with players like Alexander, still being infused with fresh blood.
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Personnel: Eric Alexander (tenor saxophone), Harold Mabern (piano), John Webber (bass), Joe Farnsworth (drums)