David Kikoski: Phoenix Rising

Jack Bowers By

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Pianist David Kikoski and tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander, among the brightest lights on New York City's jazz scene for more than two decades, have known each other for almost as many years but Phoenix Rising marks the first time they have recorded together. After listening, one observation springs immediately to mind: it's about time.

A second premise is that the album swings and dazzles from start to finish—but one would expect no less from such masters of the idiom, especially when the session benefits as well from the imposing presence of two more paragons, bassist Peter Washington and drummer Joe Farnsworth. That the level of musicianship is high throughout is also no surprise, as Kikoski and his colleagues have been honing their respective skills for many years as members of New York's elite and are unfazed and self-assured in the face of anything that threatens to impede their progress or disrupt their purpose. In their capable hands, excellence is not so much a goal as a given.

After a brief aside, the quartet hastens briskly from the starting gate on "Phoenix Rising," co-written by Alexander and Kikoski, a theme that, in Alexander's words, is "all about Dave exploding back on the scene." Explode he does with a powerful two-fisted solo that precedes an equally emphatic statement by Alexander. That's the first of no less than four burners on the menu. The others are Frank Loesser's "If I Were a Bell," Ann Ronell's "Willow Weep for Me" and John Coltrane's "Lazy Bird," on which Alexander's scorching solo would easily thaw an iceberg. The group is more laid-back but no less persuasive on the album's less heated numbers: Jimmy Webb's "Wichita Lineman," Johnny Mandel's "Emily" (on which Alexander sits out), Cole Porter's "Love for Sale" (set to a saucy Latin beat) and Guy Wood / Robert Mellin's "My One and Only Love." Alexander's nimble blues, "Kik It," rounds out the well-balanced program. Kikoski takes the first solo again, as he does on almost every number (well, it is his gig), and every solo is a model of tastefulness and technical brilliance.

The last (and most lasting) impression is that these are four superior musicians, and that quartets simply can't blend together more seamlessly than this. Everyone listens carefully, responds apace, and enhances the group dynamic. Best of all, the music they have chosen to play is invariably bright and pleasing. Well done, gentlemen.

Track Listing: Phoenix Rising; Kik It; Wichita Lineman; If I Were a Bell; Emily; Love for Sale; My One and Only Love; Lazy Bird; Willow Weep for Me.

Personnel: David Kikoski: piano; Eric Alexander: tenor saxophone (1-4, 6-9); Peter Washington: bass; Joe Farnsworth: drums.

Title: Phoenix Rising | Year Released: 2019 | Record Label: HighNote Records

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