Originally from the rain-drenched Northwest, Eric Alexander came to New York in the late '80s amidst a formidable new wave of young tenor-totin' lions, including the likes of Seamus Blake, Joshua Redman, Mark Turner and a triumvirate of Chrises: Cheek, Potter and Speed. From the start, Alexander hewed more closely to the hard bop party line than his adventurous contemporaries, yet, despite his comparatively conservative approach, has managed to carve an increasingly distinctive name for himself on the bark of the jazz family tree.
On Five Corners, a recent outing with Russian jazzmen Dmitri Kolesnik (leader, bassist and primary composer), Andrei Kondakov (pianist/composer) and Alex Sipiagin (trumpet), along with longtime compadre Jim Rotondi (trumpet) and the redoubtable Lenny White (drums), Alexander acquits himself to fine effect over a taut set of old-school modernism. Proving that process is more important than product, Corners delivers up a distinctly dushevny (Russian for 'soulful') mix of original standards, notably Kolesnik's "Song for Kenny (Kirkland), "Aniuta and "Russian Caravan , a 7/4 Phrygian-cadenced piece of Slavic exotica. The album is a study in miniatures, a series of contemplative improvisatory haikus that, for lack of new rhyme schemes, nevertheless speak deeply and with consummate craftsmanship in the language of the elders.
Temple of Olympic Zeus is Alexander's date, fortified by his go-to posse of Rotondi, David Hazeltine (piano), Joe Farnsworth (drums) and Nat Reeves (bass). Like old friends, these guys understand each other implicitly yet are not afraid to be themselves amongst a crowd, resulting in a socio-musical mix that is at once both provocative and compliant. The sound, mixed and mastered by Rudy Van Gelder in "the room (Englewood Cliffs, NY), is excellent, particularly the drums, boasting wet yet crisp cymbals and cleanly separated kit compoenents. The performances are consistently excellent, maintaining a high standard of execution and invention: on "Blues for David , piano, drums and tenor trade 8ths in a musical maelstrom of jack-hammered eighth-notes, while "I'm Gonna Laugh You Right out of My Life features a string of well composed, tightly balanced solos, delivered with offhand nonchalance for a just-right blend of intellectual rigor and visceral accessibility.
Alexander is a no-nonsense kind of guy, blessed with a prolific imagination and the determination to succeed; 20-some albums and an equal number of years after his auspicious debut, he remains charismatically and unapologetically himself.
Tracks & Personnel
Tracks: Five Corners; In Monk's Mood; Bitter Chocolate; Blues for Dad; Masha's Lullaby; Long Nights without You; Song for Kenny; Aniuta; Goodbye; Russian Caravan.
Personnel: Eric Alexander: tenor sax; Jim Rotondi: flugelhorn, trumpet; Alex Sipiagin: trumpet; Andrei Kondakov: piano; Dmitri Kolesnik: bass; Lenny White: drums.
Temple of Olympic Zeus
Tracks: The Temple of Olympic Zeus; someday We'll All Be Free; Dave's System; Some Other Time; Blues for David; Lucas Too; I'm Gonna Laugh You Right Out of My Life; I'll Keep Loving You.
Personnel: Eric Alexander: tenor saxophone; Jim Rotondi: trumpet & flugelhorn; David Hazeltine: piano; Nat Reeves: bass; Joe Farnsworth: drums.