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Eric Alexander: Summit Meeting

David A. Orthmann By

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A direct descendent of competitive, no nonsense titans such as Sonny Stitt and George Coleman, Eric Alexander plays the horn with a decidedly assertive temperament, as if he always has something to prove. Summit Meeting, his fourth release for Milestone, is arguably the tenor saxophonist’s finest recording as a leader in a prolific, decade-long career. No longer a series of brilliantly executed segments, his solos flow logically from beginning to end, exhibiting calculation and a quickness of mind that match his fervor. For example, the seven choruses Alexander takes on the brisk title cut are rife with coherent, well-developed ideas, yet they retain the excitement of his earlier work.

Other signs of Alexander’s continued development include curbing a tendency to race through improvisations on ballads, and occasionally displaying a willingness to take things a little easier. He plays the melody of “I Haven’t Got Anything Better To Do” with reverence. During the solo that follows, several strings of sixteenth and thirty-second note runs are not overdone, thereby adding a playful dimension to the music’s reflective mood. Alexander evinces uncharacteristic restraint on an agreeably swinging treatment of Bacharach and David’s “This Girl’s In Love With You.” He teasingly gives off signs of erupting only to pull back, and even without the fireworks makes a compelling statement.

All of this evidence of Alexander’s maturation takes place in the company of players who’ve been involved in various projects with him since the early 1990s: pianist Harold Mabern, bassist John Webber, and drummer Joe Farnsworth. (Trumpeter Nicholas Payton plays on four of the nine tracks.) The record is chock-full of “Mabern moments.” During a brief solo on an up-tempo “A House Is Not A Home” he gleefully marches with his left hand and dances with the right. His accompaniment on the same track is a majestic wall of sound that inspires some of the tenor saxophonist’s freest playing of the set. When Alexander moves so fast that he nearly loses control in the middle of a burning “Something’s Gotta Give,” Mabern keeps him rooted by banging out a sequence of jocose, riff-like chords.

Track Listing: 1. Summit Meeting; 2. The Sweetest Sounds; 3. There But For The Grace Of...; 4. I Haven't Got Anything Better To Do; 5. A House Is Not A Home; 6. This Girl's In Love With You; 7. Something's Gotta Give; 8. Andre's Turn; 9. After The Rain.

Personnel: Eric Alexander--tenor saxophone; Nicholas Payton--trumpet and flugelhorn; Harold Mabern--piano; John Webber--bass; Joe Farnsworth--drums.

Year Released: 2002 | Record Label: Fantasy Jazz | Style: Straight-ahead/Mainstream


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