Tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander, who turns 30 this year, has worked with Pat Martino, Freddy Cole, Mel Rhyne, Charles Earland, Peter Bernstein, Joe Magnarelli, Mark Elf, John Swana, Cecil Payne, and his teacher at William Paterson College, pianist Harold Mabern. Alexander’s ninth recording as a leader features a Chicago rhythm section of Mabern, bassist John Webber, drummer George Fludas, and hornmen Jim Rotondi on trumpet & Steve Davis on trombone. The modern mainstream sextet reveals the talents of a ‘90s young lion saxophonist deserving wider recognition. Alexander placed second to Joshua Redman in the 1991 Thelonious Monk Institute saxophone competition and released his first recording the following year.
The title track, "Mode for Mabes," features solos all around. Mabern races through melodic figures with distinct articulation, driving the music and maintaining excitement. The sextet’s arrangements provide a rich horn harmony that serves to build excitement as well as to extend the sound spectrum. Like Alexander, both trumpeter Rotondi and trombonist Davis have a respect for the quality of the tone produced from their instruments. The trumpeter remains loose and open, while the trombonist moves fluidly from phrase to phrase with a slight edginess in his sound. Both turn up the heat on occasion, particularly on Davis’ composition "Erik the Red." Fludas’ drums and Webber’s bass provide a solid rhythmic foundation throughout. Each of them steps into the solo spotlight on "Love Thy Neighbor" with his own melodic presentation. Alexander controls his delivery – both on ballads and up-tempo burners – in a way that allows the listener to appreciate the spaces between the notes just as much as the sounds themselves. His improvisational style is such that melodies continue to roll through while the saxophonist dresses up the room with a variety of ideas. John Coltrane’s "Naima" begins with the pianist adding a few eccentric harmonic elements and continues with a straight-ahead ensemble approach. Mabern spins loops of two-handed phrases, while the saxophonist remains more aloof. Alexander and Rotondi wrote "Stay Straight," an up-tempo romp that emphasizes timeless bop lines that stretch on without end. Recommended.