Eric Alexander, who has been wielding as impressive a tenor saxophone as anyone on the scene for more than two decades, returns to the studio for what seems the umpteenth time with an abundant stockpile of point-blank pleasures on Song of No Regrets, an essentially Latin-grooved session that leaves room on the first two numbers for the superlative trumpet work of guest artist Jon Faddis.
One of Alexander's strengths, and perhaps the one that has caused him to be so consistently underrated when the talk turns to contemporary tenor masters, is that he makes everything seem so implausibly easy. The technique and fluency are such that there's literally nothing Alexander can't do on his horn. Ballads? No one plays them with more warmth and understanding. Barn-burners? No tempo is too rapid to outpace his dexterous fingers. As for solos, Alexander's are models of perception and tastefulness. Oh, and he also composes ("Grinder," "Corazon Perdido," "Boom Zoom"), arranges and even plays organ on Stevie Wonder's "These Three Words."
Even with Faddis lending a Diz-inspired hand (open on pianist David Hazeltine's "But Here's the Thing," muted and open on "Three Words"), Alexander leaves no doubt who's in charge, soloing with his customary power, perception and panache while "backing" himself with some emphatic organ phrases on "Three Words." Buoyant Latin rhythms are predominant on "Grinder," "Mas Que Nada" and "Boom Zoom," a framework that is enriched by the splendid talents of percussionist Alex Diaz. Sergio Mendes' "Song of No Regrets," a soulful ballad, shows Alexander's tender side, then it's back to swinging as usual on drummer Joe Farnsworth's shuffling "Cede's Shack" and Jimmy Webb's classic "Up, Up and Away," introduced by the Fifth Dimension in 1967 (and never sounding better, even without Marilyn McCoo on board).
As always, Alexander is afforded a wide comfort zone by his longtime colleagues and friends Hazeltine, Farnsworth and bassist John Webber, and as always, he makes the most of it. In the perennial sweepstakes among straight-ahead small-group sessions, Song of No Regrets is a clear and decisive prize winner.
But Here’s the Thing; These Three Words; Grinder; Mas Que Nada; Boom Zoom; Song of No Regrets; Cede’s Shack; Up, Up and Away.
Eric Alexander: tenor saxophone, organ (2); Jon Faddis: trumpet (1, 2); David Hazeltine: piano; John Webber: bass; Joe Farnsworth: drums; Alex Diaz: conga, bongos, auxiliary percussion.
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