Renowned tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander's Leap of Faith stems in part from the decision (hesitantly made) to perform in a trio setting without pianohardly an uncommon arrangement these days but one that Alexander, a shining light on the New York music scene for more than two decades, has rarely explored, either in live gigs or on more than forty-plus albums as leader of his own groups. Also, Leap of Faith was recorded live (no safety net) at New York City's Jazz Gallery by Alexander, bassist Doug Weiss and drummer Johnathan Blake. As if that weren't enough to induce uncertainty, Alexander expanded the "leap" even further by performing only his own compositions and doing so in a free-wheeling mode that more or less moves him from his customary post-bop comfort zone into realms that are more closely associated with John Coltrane, Wayne Shorter or Pharoah Sanders, to name a few.
Unlike many exponents of "free jazz," Alexander never loses touch with the harmonic framework that lends such music its aesthetic as well as cerebral appeal. Even when hanging on a discordant limb, he remains at heart an unapologetic straight-from-the-shoulder swinger, even on the cacophonous finale, "Second Impression," on which he sounds as unlike the "usual" Eric Alexander as on anything he has ever recorded. The same holds true on most other numbers, from the fleet and staccato opener, "Luquitas," to the equally propulsive "Second Impression."
The tempo (but not the passion) slows to some degree on "Mars," whose harmonic progression, Alexander writes, is based on Bruno Mars' pop hit, "Finesse." A piano is used to good effect on "Corazon Perdido," as Alexander accompanies himself on the moody change-of-pace that leads to another wailer, the gritty "Hard Blues," followed by the mercurial and well-named "Frenzy." Alexander is bold and unrestrained on each of them, as he is on the more moderately paced "Big Richard" and "Magyar," the last based on themes from Bela Bartok's "Music for Strings, Percussion and Celeste." While Blake solos brightly on "Luquitas," and Weiss on "Big Richard," it is Alexander's robust and (unusually) strident voice that animates every number.
Leap of Faith traverses new and unexplored territory, for Alexander and his fans, and it is they who must decide whether that leap has thrust him forward or backward. No definitive conclusion will be drawn here. The stars are for Alexander who even in this atypical framework is never less than very good.
Luquitas; Mars; Corazon Perdido; Hard Blues; Frenzy; Big Richard; Magyar; Second Impression.