Eric Alexander suffers from an ailment we’ll call Joe Lovano disease. Like his one time professor, Alexander so fluidly handles bebop patterns with relative ease that listeners dismiss his talent for casualness. His less-than-showman approach scores high with critics and fellow musicians but discovery by a wide audience requires style that has nothing to do with music. Perhaps we can come up with a nickname, that’s the ticket, a ‘gutbucket’ or ‘Red’ might be all he needs. Kidding aside, each new release garners more praise, and it’s not too late to be a “used to dig him when he was just 32” fan.
Coming in second to Joshua Redman in the 1991 Thelonious Monk Competition has given Alexander the time to woodshed the modern way on independent labels like Delmark and Criss Cross and Japan’s Alfa. His new association with Milestone produced last year’s Solid!, with George Mraz, John Hicks, and Idris Muhammad, and this quartet/quintet with Pat Martino sitting in. Besides Martino, Alexander’s former professor and now longtime band mate pianist Harold Mabern makes the date. A natural compliment to Alexander’s rather large voice, Mabern, always the mentor, favors percussive attack and bop song lines. To say that the band fancies demolition over fireworks is a compliment. Alexander, Mabern, and Martino run clean, lyrical classic lines. Alexander has often been compared to Early Dexter Gordon, George Coleman, and Tina Brooks. I can’t really place him in any stylistic camp, as say was true with Joe Lovano ten years ago. He tends to draw from a Chicago tradition without being from Chicago. The signature song is “The Phineas Trane,” a tribute to Phineas Newborn, Mabern’s mentor, while referencing John Coltrane. The quintet works the Trane motif with a whistle call and an ‘All Aboard!’ changing time as the song locomotes. Alexander plays fast and loose all the while the song stays on track wrapped by Mabern and the swift Martino. A killer effort. That’s it, ‘Killer’ Alexander.
Track List:Stand Pat; #34 Was Sweetness; The First Milestone; The Towering Inferno; Night Song; Last Night When We Were Young; The Phineas Trane; I’m Glad There Is You.