November 18, 2000
Putting aside the obvious marketing ploys (such as “young lion meets seasoned veteran” or “cross-generational fellowship at its best”), the pairing of Columbus native Hank Marr and New York phenom Eric Alexander just plain made sense considering that Marr has managed to develop a world class status due the resurgent popularity of the B3 organ and Alexander has previously worked with some of the best organ grinders, including Melvin Rhyne and the late Charles Earland. Logistically nothing too difficult involved here either, with Hank loading up the organ for the drive from Columbus to Dayton and Eric flying in from New York. Then, add longtime Marr associate Wilbert Longmire on guitar and drummer Art Gore, both Cincinnati legends, and a guarantee of success was definitively in the cards. And to boot, both Longmire and Gore have their roots in the “chitlin’ circuit,” the former a veteran of Trudy Pitts’ late ‘60s group and the latter part of an early incarnation of a George Benson unit with Lonnie Smith.
Presented by Cityfolk, Dayton’s non-profit arts support organization, the Marr-Alexander Quartet filled a spacious Gilly’s with an attentive and highly appreciative crowd. A venue known for its clear sightlines and natural sound, Gilly’s has been presenting quality jazz shows on a regular basis for many decades now. The first of two generous sets got underway with the loping groove of the classic “Soft Winds.” Alexander’s mastery was immediately apparent. Even though he later told me his allergies had kicked in and he was having reed problems, I was never the wiser as Eric’s fluidity and range across the entire instrument was nothing short of astounding.
A very soulful take on Bobby Timmons’ “Dis Here” was another opportunity for Alexander to shine. His solo was artfully constructed, using space sagaciously, and again the fullness of tone was noticeable in both those high octave wails and the lowest honks and moans. Longmire brought raves from the crowd as well with his individualistic approach, containing shades of both the stinging blues of B.B. King and the mellow runs and octaves of Wes Montgomery. At one point, he began to scat sing along with his own guitar lines a la George Benson. Marr too knows how to pace a solo and his intrepid bass lines kept things popping throughout.
Getting pretty for a few moments, Longmire ushered in a beautiful version of “Tenderly,” which also included an extended final solo cadenza from Alexander. “The Shadow of Your Smile” was taken as a breezy bossa nova, only to later kick in to a sprightly samba during Alexander’s solo. Sounding the bell on the first round, “Oleo” was delivered at a vigorous clip and would include inspired moments from Marr, Longmire, and Alexander, the latter strolling all by himself at one point.
As gratifying as the opener had been, things got even hotter during the second set. Both “The Night Has a Thousand Eyes” and “Invitation” sported beguiling arrangements and plenty of juicy solo work from everyone on deck. Then it was time to get down to business with Jimmy Smith’s quintessential jam, “Back at the Chicken Shack.” Alexander used everything at his disposal for a lengthy spot that included some of his choicest devices, such as multiphonics and those upper register cries. Marr simmered slowly before changing stops and engaging in that “ice rink mode” (for lack of a better term) that Jimmy Smith often uses for variety. Never flamboyant for the sake of attention, Marr’s solos are always at the service of the melody and harmonies at hand.
Bringing the tempo down after the fireworks of “Chicken Shack,” Hank and Eric started off “In a Sentimental Mood” as just a duo. During the saxophonist’s later solo things went into double time and at the moment of his closing stand he skillfully worked in a sly quote of Coltrane’s “Like Sonny” that brought a smile to many of the perceptive listeners in the audience. Required reading for any jazzman worth his weight, Alexander and company finished off with a nimble “Cherokee.” Drummer Art Gore constructed a very musical solo, as he had done several other times during the evening, cleverly employing such devices as stick tapping and rim clicks. It was a lively finale to what could be summed up in just a few letters- V.S.O.P. (very special one-time performance).