The title of Eric Alexander
's Don't Follow the Crowd
is somewhat ironic, as it is one in a string of recordings, on the HighNote label, that have all been cast from the same mold. Alexander can be counted on to deliver well-crafted, straight-ahead jazz albums that may not break any new musical ground, but are beautifully played and impeccably recorded, with a selection of swinging blues and ballads.
If, perhaps, a little more aggressively played than 2009's Revival of the Fittest
(HighNote), this record is, nonetheless, classic Alexander. The quartet is tight, well-rehearsed and clearly a regularly working unit. Alexander plays his horn strictly in natural notes with no squawking or false note screaming. He is a model of elegant good taste, who might have been at home in the Duke Ellington
Alexander also has good taste in assembling material for a record. His own contributions are a pair of up-tempo numbers. "Nomor Senterbress" has a North African, whirling dervish line to it that, were it played on a clarinet, would be at home in a movie score for some Arabian adventure. As it is, Alexander bends it into a framework for a hard-charging blues. "Remix Blues," is another straight-ahead jamming number that, in addition to Alexander, features a terrific turn by longtime pianist Harold Mabern
and some effusive soloing by drummer Joe Farnsworth
It's hard to go wrong with almost anything by Henry Mancini
, and Alexander chooses "Charade," with its lovely, searching melody. Perhaps the oddballat least by nameis some movie music: "Cavatina" from the soundtrack to The Deer Hunter
(1978). But like everything else here, it is performed flawlessly, and in a manner that doesn't suggest any gimmicks or tricks just another top-notch performance on a fine album.
And therein lies the fly in the ointment. Alexander is clearly at the top of his game, and Don't Follow the Crowd
is an excellent addition to a consistently strong discography. But there is the sense that he could challenge himself with more experimental improvisation and perhaps a different lineup. As good as Don't Follow The Crowd
is, it leaves some questions about how much further he could go as a musician if he were to take on more risks. Odds are he could deliver something truly amazing.