Let’s be honest; no Jazz reviewer can ever be completely objective because each of us has his or her favorite players, those musicians who, in our eyes, can do no wrong and whose next venture we look forward eagerly to hearing. When I was a young man (yes, I can remember that, albeit vaguely) Zoot Sims was, for me, such a paragon. In my opinion Zoot was the man, and no one (except perhaps Stan Getz) even came close. Irrational, perhaps, but there you have it. Zoot’s gone now (no doubt reunited with Stan, Al Cohn and Serge Chaloff in Woody Herman’s Heavenly Herd) but other tenor saxophonists have arisen to take his place, even though he could never be replaced. In one reviewer’s opinion, the present–day player who comes closest to reanimating Zoot’s ineffable spirit (even though he sounds nothing at all like him) is 32–year–old Eric Alexander, a blue–collar phenom whose latest album and second on the Milestone label is actually his 13th as a leader in less than a decade (the first, Straight Up, was released by Delmark in 1992, one year after Alexander placed second in the annual Thelonious Monk Institute competition). Alexander was already an excellent player in ’92, and he’s an even better one now, more relaxed, self–confident and technically sound than ever — so sure of himself that he can introduce the melody on “Matchmaker, Matchmaker,” then step aside to let pianist / mentor Harold Mabern take the album’s first solo. Mabern’s no slouch when it comes to resourceful ad–libbing, and he gives Alexander a formidable target at which to aim. As usual, Eric is up to the task, as he is throughout the album. While I can’t honestly say that Second Milestone is Alexander’s best recorded work to date (he has been on a slew of albums under his own name and with a number of other groups), it’s good enough to quench almost anyone’s thirst for high–caliber post–bop Jazz. Alexander is in excellent form, as are Mabern, bassist Peter Washington and drummer Joe Farnsworth. The quartet becomes a quintet on four tracks with trumpeter Jim Rotondi (like Washington and Farnsworth, one of Eric’s colleagues in the group One for All ) adding his engaging voice. Alexander, whose compositional skills are also maturing, wrote “Luna Naranja,” “The Cliffs of Asturias” and the title selection, while Mabern contributed “The Man from Hyde Park” and “John Neely Beautiful People.” Jerry Bock / Sheldon Harnick’s “Matchmaker” (from Fiddler on the Roof ), Henry Mancini / Johnny Mercer’s ballad “Moment to Moment” and the lovely “Estate” round out the tasteful program. Alexander shows his class by dedicating the album to the late organist Charles Earland, with whom he made his recording debut in 1991. The “mighty burner” would have loved this music, and so should you.
Contact:Milestone Records, 10th and Parker, Berkeley, CA 94710. Web site, www.fantasyjazz.com
Track Listing: Matchmaker, Matchmaker; The Second Milestone; Moment to Moment; The Man from Hyde Park; Estate; Luno Naranja; John Neely Beautiful People; The Cliffs of Asturias (58:23).
Personnel: Eric Alexander, tenor saxophone; Jim Rotondi (4, 6, 8), trumpet; Harold Mabern, piano; Peter Washington, bass; Joe Farnsworth, drums.