It’s always a pleasure to review an album on which tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander is showcased, as I'm pretty sure beforehand that I’ll thoroughly enjoy it. That sense of happy anticipation is appreciably heightened when he’s in the company of such accomplished playmates as leader / pianist David Hazeltine, bassist Peter Washington and drummer Joe Farnsworth, who are among his partners as well in the exciting New York-based co-op sextet, One for All.
Manhattan Autumn is Hazeltine’s sixth album as leader for Sharp Nine, the second on which Alexander has played a leading role (the first was last year’s The Classic Trio Meets Eric Alexander ). He seems to have found a winning combination, and the hope is that we’ll be hearing even more from this “classic quartet.”
As on the earliier album, everyone is of a single mind (think hard bop) and all the elements fall neatly into place. This is a throwback to the halcyon days of Prestige, Pablo, Impulse and Blue Note, which means simply that it swings relentlessly and under all conditions. Hazeltine, whose right hand is so mesmerizing that one may overlook how skillfully he uses the left, is as masterful an accompanist as he is a soloist, and his solos are consistently sharp and resourceful.
As for Alexander, his prodigious talents loom larger with every album (and he has recorded a ton of them). Eric’s technique and timing are superb, his phrasing beyond reproach, and in my opinion there aren’t more than a handful of players on any horn who can make swinging seem as natural and effortless as he. Washington and Farnsworth are no slouches in that department either, and their superior navigational skills help make the album an unconditional success.
Another thing that helps set Manhattan Autumn apart is the excellent choice of material, starting with Hazeltine’s brisk “Walk in the Park” and including two more of his bop-based compositions, “Blues on the 7” and “Updown After Dark,” Alexander’s romping blues “On the Marc,” Henry Mancini’s haunting “Moon River,” Burt Bacharach / Hal David’s “The Look of Love” (on which Alexander takes a breather), Thelonious Monk’s ballad “Ask Me Now,” and an agreeably fast-paced reading of James van Heusen’s “Nancy with the Laughing Face.”
This is a quartet that delivers the goods, and an album that rewards the listener each time the “play” button is pushed.
Contact: Sharp Nine Records, 561 Hillcrest Avenue, Westfield, NJ 07090. Phone 908–789– 7660; fax 908–654–1863. Web site, www.sharpnine.com; e–mail firstname.lastname@example.org. For bookings, contact Nancy Barell, Joy of Jazz Productions, email@example.com
Track Listing: A Walk in the Park; Moon River; Blues on the 7; The Look of Love; On the Marc; Uptown After Dark;
Ask Me Now; Nancy with the Laughing Face (55:38).
Personnel: David Hazeltine, piano; Eric Alexander, tenor saxophone; Peter Washington, bass; Joe Farnsworth,