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Eric Alexander & Mike LeDonne: Dead Center & Smokin' Out Loud

Russ Musto By

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Too often jazz criticism's unquenchable thirst for sweeping innovation results in the failure to acknowledge inventive music like that found on these two excellent discs.

Eric Alexander
Dead Center
HighNote Records

Eric Alexander is one of the jazz tradition's strongest proponents, possessing an inviting sound and style that can be proudly called classic. On Dead Center he forges straight ahead with a satisfying program of standards and seldom heard original compositions by jazz masters, joined by the excellent rhythm section of veteran pianist Harold Mabern, stalwart bassist John Webber and ubiquitous drummer Joe Farnsworth. The muscular saxophonist presents his softer-sophisticated side on this relaxed date, without sacrificing his penchant for swinging in the tradition of Ammons, Gordon, Rollins and Coltrane. Starting with his own bluesy "One For Steve , Alexander shows himself to be a mellow melodicist, a master of the not-always-easy medium tempo. Herbie Hancock's "Sonrisa is treated to an Ahmad Jamal influenced arrangement that enhances the composition's inherent beauty. The quartet takes the Lerner/Loewe standard "Almost Like Being In Love at a brisk but unhurried pace, superimposing "Giant Steps changes on the lovely melody.

Alexander gives the gorgeous Sammy Cahn/Jule Styne ballad "It's Magic the classic treatment it deserves with a surprise ending inspired by Mabern's baroque piano interlude. Another surprise is the updated version of Mabern's "A Few Miles From Memphis that has the composer interpolating "So What chords behind the intricate funky melody. The band waltzes serenely through McCoy Tyner's "Search For Peace (with Alexander demonstrating his well known affection for George Coleman's articulate style) and swings straight ahead on the title track, a Pat Martino original Alexander picked up playing in the guitarist's group. The date ends on a more urgent note with an up-tempo outing that features Farnsworth on the staple, "I Could Have Danced All Night .

Mike LeDonne
Smokin' Out Loud
HighNote Records

Alexander and Farnsworth are both back along with guitarist Peter Bernstein on Mike LeDonne's soul stirring Smokin' Out Loud, the keyboardist's debut disc leading the organ group that he performs regularly with at Smoke. LeDonne's two-fisted sure-footed mastery of the Hammond B3 tradition is evident from the beginning of his burning "One For Don , a dedication to the unheralded organ great Don Patterson. An imaginative arrangement puts a backbeat behind the Brown-Roach classic "Delilah , Alexander nodding in the direction of Stanley Turrentine. The hip rendering of Earth Wind and Fire's "After The Love Has Gone has the soul song swinging lightly. LeDonne pays further tribute to the lineage of jazz organ with an articulate reading of the late Jimmy Smith's "You'll See .

Part of the popularity of '60s organ groups stemmed from their interpretation of pop hits and the band does a great job here with the chartbuster "Superstar . LeDonne's "Silverdust is a bluesy dedication to Horace Silver that makes reference to the Jazz Messenger staple "Moanin' . "French Spice , a hip Donald Byrd tune that is part of the band's Smoke repertoire, is recorded here for the first time since its debut on the trumpeter's Free Form Blue Note album. Burt Bacharach's Carpenters hit "Close To You is given a smoking treatment in the style of Charles Earland. The date comes full circle back to Don Patterson to close with "Pisces Soul , a hot Howard McGhee original from the organist's Boppin' and Burnin' record.

Tracks and Personnel

Dead Center

Tracks:

1 One for Steve Alexander 6:49 2 Sonrisa Hancock 6:46 3 Almost Like Being in Love Lerner, Loewe 6:41 4 It's Magic Cahn, Styne 6:25 5 A Few Miles from Memphis Mabern 7:01 6 Search for Peace Tyner 8:03 7 Dead Center Martino 6:14 8 I Could Have Danced All Night Lerner, Loewe 3:58

Personnel:

Eric Alexander Sax (Tenor) Harold Mabern Piano John Webber Bass Joe Farnsworth Drums

Smokin' Out Loud

Tracks:

One for Don LeDonne 7:55 2 Delilah Young 6:46 3 After the Love Has Gone Champlin, Foster, Graydon 6:48 4 You'll See Smith 4:57 5 Superstar Bramlett, Bramlett, Russell 5:44 6 Silverdust LeDonne 7:23 7 French Spice Byrd 9:12 8 They Long to Be Close to You Bacharach, David 7:02 9 Pisces Soul McGhee 7:26

Personnel:

Mike LeDonne Organ (Hammond) Eric Alexander Sax (Tenor) Peter Bernstein Guitar Joe Farnsworth Drums

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