For all intents and purposes, you might like to think of Eric Alexander as being a modern-day equivalent of Tina Brooks, a very neglected tenor man from the ‘60s who just happened to be around when such mega stars as Johnny Griffin, John Coltrane, and Sonny Rollins also happened to be walking on the planet. Alexander certainly has his own competition to consider, with Joe Lovano and Chris Potter taking a lot of the attention these days in terms of the tenor saxophone category, but like Brooks he’s got his own thing going and it just seems to blossom forth each time he picks up the horn.
Adding already to a sizable and very likable catalog of records for Criss Cross Jazz, Delmark, and High Note, The First Milestone is an aptly-titled set that serves as Alexander’s first to be recorded exclusively for the Milestone label. Not one to go for novelty just for the sake of experimentation, Eric wisely chooses to work in a comfortable quartet format with men who know his style and have an established track record- pianist Harold Mabern, bassist Peter Washington, and drummer Joe Farnsworth. Together with guest Pat Martino, who sits in on four cuts and makes a better showing than on his own recent records, this ensemble communicates with acumen and purpose.
Alexander speaks with a warmth and authority throughout that marks him as one of the finest of his generation. He really has developed his own approach, be it through the lush ballad work on “Last Night When We Were Young” or the over blowing and shrieks that bring on a delightfully buoyant “The Phineas Trane” (a concoction that salutes Mabern’s piano hero Phineas Newborn and Alexander inspiration John Coltrane). The erudite choice of material is another strong suit for Alexander, who manages to make the theme from “The Towering Inferno” take spark as a lilting bossa nova, while putting a new twist on “I’m Glad There Is You” through the use of a solid backbeat.
Of the talented sidemen, not much needs to be said except that Washington and Farnsworth gel into one of the more perfect rhythm sections of recent times. Mabern just radiates a command of the instrument that is all too rare these days and his glissandos are sprinkled throughout to great effect. It all adds up to another surefire winner from a man who fits the bill nicely as talent deserving of wider recognition.
Track Listing: Stand Pat, #34 Was Sweetness (for Walter Payton), The First Milestone, The Towering Inferno, Night Song, Last Night When We Were Young, The Phineas Trane, I
Personnel: Eric Alexander- tenor saxophone, Pat Martino- guitar, Peter Washington- bass, Joe Farnsworth- drums