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Alex Graham: The Good Life (2005)

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Alex Graham: The Good Life How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.

I can never understand why, on so many albums these days, the leading accompanist—in this case pianist Rick Roe—is pushed so far forward in the mix that one's ears are irresistibly drawn to him rather than to the soloist he is supposedly backing. Roe is an able accompanist; no argument there. But when his every note overshadows leader Alex Graham, the recording becomes his by default, thus subverting its basic purpose, which is to showcase Graham, even though he's doing no more than has been asked of him.

As for Graham, he does the best he can to rise above the handicap. His main drawback is that he sounds like no one and everyone. Put him in a lineup with Antonio Hart, Kenny Garrett, Wess Anderson, Vincent Herring, Ian Hendrickson-Smith, Andy Fusco, Dick Oatts, or any number of other contemporary mainstream players and you'd be hard-pressed to single him out. Of course, that's not all bad, as each of those alto prodigies is highly skilled and consistently articulate, as is Graham. He plays all the right notes and he swings. On the other hand, he's not designing anything that hasn't been handsomely worn on many other occasions.

One bright thing the session has going for it is Graham's choice of material, which is well above average. His three compositions—"Push, "It's a Long Way Down, "Explosion —are quite good, the three standards—"I Had the Craziest Dream, "The Good Life, Tadd Dameron's jazz evergreen "On a Misty Night —even better. Graham plays each one with assurance if not notable originality, choosing to stay with the alto except for the introduction and coda to "Push, whereon, thanks to some shrewd electronic legerdemain, he plays alto, clarinet, and flute "simultaneously.

Roe is another strong soloist, while bassist Rodney Whitaker and drummer Joe Strasser carry out their rhythmic assignment with discretion and taste. If one overlooks Roe's too-prominent role as Graham's chaperon, this is a consistently entertaining album, even though, as another lyric affirms, it may seem you've heard that song before.

Track Listing: Push; I Had the Craziest Dream; Its a Long Way Down; The Good Life; Explosion; On a Misty Night (54:57).

Personnel: Alex Graham: alto saxophone, flute, clarinet; Rick Roe: piano; Rodney Whitaker: bass; Joe Strasser: drums.

Record Label: Origin Records

Style: Straight-ahead/Mainstream


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