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Think of the stunning array of tenor greats buoyed at one time or another by pianist Cedar Walton: John Coltrane, Dexter Gordon, Gene Ammons, Clifford Jordan, Wayne Shorter, Hank Mobley, Joe Henderson, Lucky Thompson, Junior Cook, George Coleman and Stanley Turrentine to name only a few. And these associations take into account neither the considerable number of classics Walton has introduced to the jazz songbook nor the pianist's simply magical prowess on his instrument - like a fine wine, aged to perfection over four decades. So consider the challenge to a young tenor player featuring Walton on his own date.
Thirty-year-old Illinois native Eric Alexander is hardly a babe in the woods or a novice at the game, though. Man With A Horn, first issued in Japan on the Alfa label in 1997, is his eighth as a leader (he's since recorded for Delmark, Sharp Nine and, with last year's aptly-titled Solid, Milestone). It's a fine taste of contemporary bop, kept relevant by the simpatico synergy forged between the saxophonist and his pianist.
Alexander is an astute technician in the bop tradition who's been honing a sound and style that becomes more distinctive and recognizable with each new recording. One thing about his playing that sticks with you is how sensitively considered his music is. He's tough, without growling or roaring; muscular without flexing or flying off the handle; clever without vamping or showiness; and sweet without being sugary or sticky.
Here, Alexander and Walton work in a quartet rounded out by the tenor's regular bassist, Dwayne Burno, and drummer Joe Farnsworth. The program is a nicely varied collection of bop tunes featuring a few by-the-book standards, two Alexander originals and Walton's gorgeous "Midnight Waltz" and an unusually speedy "Fiesta Española." Stand outs include the funky bop of Alexander's "Unsung Hero" (dedicated to another Walton tenor associate, Eddie Harris), "GCCJ" (dedicated to and apropos of both George Coleman and Clifford Jordan), Johnny Mandel's "A Time For Love" and, of course, "Midnight Waltz" (which, like "GCCJ" and the pretty "My Shining Hour," add Jim Rotondi's trumpet and Steve Davis's trombone to great benefit).
Though not often as eventful or memorable as one could hope, Man With A Horn, is nevertheless an elegant and eloquent bop affair. Alexander's appealing talents have yet to stamp the music with distinction. But he's inspired in the company of Cedar Walton and it's the pianist's contribution that makes this one to hear.
Players:Eric Alexander-tenor saxophone; Cedar Walton-piano; Dwayne Burno-bass; Joe Farnsworth-drums; Jim Rotondi-trumpet; Steve Davis-trombone.
Songs:Man with a Horn; Unsung Hero; A Time for Love; GCCJ; Midnight Waltz; My Shining Hour; Stars Fell on Alabama; I Found You; Fiesta Española.