On his debut recording, Firetet, Chicago-based trumpeter Constantine Alexander pays tribute to Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, the late great Clifford Brown and modern-day disciples Nicholas Payton and Sean Jones. Alexander does not do so by imitating anyonethat would be fruitlessbut the swinging spirit of Blakey, Brown and the present-day artists already noted is ever- present on what is basically a bop-centered studio session reminiscent of the classic Blue Note and Prestige albums from the '50s and '60s.
Alexander's Firetetactually a quintet wherein tenor saxophonist Roy McGrath shares the front linequickly finds a harmonious groove on "The Show" and seldom removes its collective hand from the throttle throughout this animated and buoyant session. Even on the more leisurely numbers ("IDKY," "Waltzin' Long," "Forever and Always"), a Messengers-like aura enriches the scene, as pianist Julius Tucker, bassist Ben Dillinger and drummer Greg Essig display their hard-bop penchant by flaunting their rhythmic chops on the burners and showing a lighter and more delicate touch whenever that is necessary.
Besides playing admirable trumpet (and flugelhorn), Alexander wrote and arranged the album's seven numbers, showing that he is proficient in that area as well. His solos are sharp and impressive, the most pleasing of which (to these ears) may well be his nimble excursion on the tasteful and charming "Frequent Flyer." McGrath is an earnest and able partner, at times calling to mind another outstanding Chicago tenor, the late Mark Colby (especially on the lyrical "Waltzin' Long"). Dillinger takes a crisp solo on "Frequent Flyer," Essig on the persuasive finale, "Deez."
"Deez," Alexander's deep bow to saxophone legend John Coltrane, opens gently with Tucker establishing a laid-back groove before the momentum shifts into high gear as Alexander and McGrath devour the melody (with a taste of "Salt Peanuts") while Tucker, Dillinger and Essig dig in hard, as their forebears in the Messengers never failed to do. "Fire" is a self-assured burner, "IDKY" a medium-tempo excursion, "Forever and Always" the session's lone ballad. In sum, an excellent maiden voyage by Alexander and his dexterous quintet. Fans of Blakey and the Messengers should warm quickly to this heated Firetet.
The Show; IDKY; Fire; Waltzin’ Long; Frequent Flyer; Forever and Always; Deez.
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