Eric Alexander: Don't Follow the Crowd (2011)
The title of Eric Alexander's Don't Follow the Crowd is somewhat ironic, as it is one in a string of recordings, on the HighNote label, that have all been cast from the same mold. Alexander can be counted on to deliver well-crafted, straight-ahead jazz albums that may not break any new musical ground, but are beautifully played and impeccably recorded, with a selection of swinging blues and ballads.
If, perhaps, a little more aggressively played than 2009's Revival of the Fittest (HighNote), this record is, nonetheless, classic Alexander. The quartet is tight, well-rehearsed and clearly a regularly working unit. Alexander plays his horn strictly in natural notes with no squawking or false note screaming. He is a model of elegant good taste, who might have been at home in the Duke Ellington orchestra.
Alexander also has good taste in assembling material for a record. His own contributions are a pair of up-tempo numbers. "Nomor Senterbress" has a North African, whirling dervish line to it that, were it played on a clarinet, would be at home in a movie score for some Arabian adventure. As it is, Alexander bends it into a framework for a hard-charging blues. "Remix Blues," is another straight-ahead jamming number that, in addition to Alexander, features a terrific turn by longtime pianist Harold Mabern and some effusive soloing by drummer Joe Farnsworth.
It's hard to go wrong with almost anything by Henry Mancini, and Alexander chooses "Charade," with its lovely, searching melody. Perhaps the oddballat least by nameis some movie music: "Cavatina" from the soundtrack to The Deer Hunter (1978). But like everything else here, it is performed flawlessly, and in a manner that doesn't suggest any gimmicks or tricks just another top-notch performance on a fine album.
And therein lies the fly in the ointment. Alexander is clearly at the top of his game, and Don't Follow the Crowd is an excellent addition to a consistently strong discography. But there is the sense that he could challenge himself with more experimental improvisation and perhaps a different lineup. As good as Don't Follow The Crowd is, it leaves some questions about how much further he could go as a musician if he were to take on more risks. Odds are he could deliver something truly amazing.
Track Listing: Nomor Senterbress; She's Out of My Life; Footsteps; Charade; Don't Misunderstand; Remix Blues; Don't Follow the Crowd; Cavatina from "The Deer Hunter."
Personnel: Eric Alexander: tenor saxophone; Harold Mabern: piano; Nat Reeves: bass; Joe Farnsworth: drums.