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With the release of The First Milestone, Eric Alexander continues to make the transition from a young, hard-blowing tenor saxophonist to a mature soloist and leader of interesting small bands. Alexander is simply getting better at what he’s been doing quite well all along; that is, making high-energy music largely based on the spectrum of straight-ahead jazz of the 50s and 60s. Throughout the disc, his playing has its characteristic intensity, and his solos sound like complete statements rather than a fusion of disparate ideas. As always, Alexander has surrounded himself with bandmates (pianist Harold Mabern, guitarist Pat Martino, bassist Peter Washington, and drummer Joe Farnsworth) who push him to the limit and have something of their own to say.
Alexander’s sheer joy in making music comes through loud and clear on several cuts, most notably the jaunty “Night Song,” and a funky version of “I’m Glad There Is You,” which is reminiscent of the sounds made during his tenure in the band of Hammond B3 organist Charles Earland. On both tunes, the liberties he takes on the melodies are as interesting as his improvised solos. “Last Night When We Were Young” gets a ballad treatment and doesn’t stray very far from that vein even when the tempo doubles in the middle of Alexander’s solo. “34 Was Sweetness,” a deliberate, virile stroll, is a fitting tribute to the late Walter Payton.
The contrasting solo approaches of Martino and Mabern are important to the success of the disc. Although Martino appears on only four of the eight tracks, his impeccable single-note lines swing quietly but intensely. Mabern plays with an odd combination of abandon and delicacy, and even at its most restrained, his playing has a startling momentum.
Track List:Stand Pat; 34 Was Sweetness (For Walter Payton); The First Milestone; The Towering Inferno; Night Song; Last Night When We Were Young; The Phineas Trane; I’m Glad There Is You.
Years ago now--in Rhodesia--listening to Voice of America with Willis Conover I heard Bunk Johnson play When The Saints Go Marching In, and Billie Holiday sing Don't Explain. I knew then there was no other life for me than jazz.