The early sixties were filled with musicians who gigged constantly at clubs, enjoyed infrequent work as sidemen, and managed to put out an album or two on a major label. This two-fer from Fantasy highlights Ronnie Mathews and Roland Alexander, two obscure musicians who nevertheless were afforded the opportunity to record as leaders in a market that was willing to take chances on promising talent.
Mathews shows on his debut a willingness to extend the hard-bop template; someone who writes a title song in 10/8 time certainly can’t be accused of lacking ambition. Mathews’ dark, rich chords and brooding melodies are very similar to McCoy Tyner’s, and he show a knack for creating interesting and memorable heads. Although working primarily in fast tempos, a lovely “Prelude To A Kiss” would sound right at home on a Vince Guaraldi album (and would probably be the best song on there as well). However, the real draw is a young Freddie Hubbard, who even at this early stage shows an ability to break out of the gate with tasty, forceful solos that few could equal. Charles Davis, the other lead horn, ably navigates the heads but has trouble keeping up with Hubbard in the solo department. Mathews’ debut showed a lot of promise and is definitely an overlooked gem.
Alexander’s debut record, on the other hand, lacks the imagination and depth of the former session. It sure sounds like the first record of an artist who was quickly headed to obscurity. This is routine hard bop which brings nothing new to the table and thus is quickly forgotten. Neither Alexander nor Belgrave can seem to find an interesting melodic idea out of the most basic progressions, often relying on clichés and repetitive phrases to get by. Even Mathews seems bored, displaying no more enthusiasm than a kid playing hopscotch. A disappointment, but it’s hard to quibble about the added session when it comes virtually for free with the first.
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Personnel: On #1-6: Ronnie Mathews-piano; Freddie Hubbard-trumpet; Charles
Davis-baritone sax; Eddie Khan-bass; Albert "Tootie" Heath-drums. On
#7-12: Roland Alexander-tenor sax; Marcus Belgrave-trumpet; Ronnie
Mathews-piano; Gene Taylor-bass; Clarence "Scoby" Stroman-drums.