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Among the numerous projects in which Eric Alexander was involved during the nineteen- nineties (including a dozen records under his own name and approximately three times as many as a sideman) was his ongoing involvement in the soul-jazz band of the late Charles Earland. Alexander’s stint with “The Mighty Burner” was his first major gig after placing second to Joshua Redman in the Thelonious Monk competition for tenor saxophonists in 1991. For this disc recorded in 1997, Earland assumed the role of producer as well as playing the Hammond B3 organ.
In contrast to Alexander’s regular, straight-ahead fare as a leader for a number of record labels, Alexander the Great pretty much sticks to the formula of Earland’s popular recordings for Muse and HighNote, with an emphasis on funk and soul grooves. The material includes a couple of crowd-pleasing pop tunes (“Let’s Stay Together” and “Through the Fire”), some standards (“God Bless the Child,” “Soft Winds,” and “Born To Be Blue,”), and originals by Alexander and guitarist Peter Bernstein. Trumpeter James Rotondi’s (another veteran of Earland’s bands) crackling, bop-oriented solos are among the disc’s highlights, especially on Alexander’s “Burner’s Waltz.” Bernstein contributes turns filled with bluesy inflections. Drummer Joe Farnsworth wisely doesn’t try to compete with the hum and rumble of Earland’s organ; instead, he keeps good time and spurs everyone on with precise accents and fills.
Although Alexander plays well throughout the entire disc, it is during his composition, appropriately titled “Explosion,” that he proves why he’s one of the finest young tenor players in jazz. He tears through the changes of the up-tempo tune for several choruses with great intensity and a seemingly endless supply of ideas. I dare say that Sonny Stitt (a formative influence) and George Coleman (a mentor) would be proud of him.
Track List: Burner’s Waltz; Let’s Stay Together; God Bless the Child; Explosion; Through the Fire; Soft Winds; Born To Be Blue; Carrot Cake.