If you insist on your jazz being loud and of the avant variety, then this disc will not be for you. If you’ve convinced yourself that the young guys are just revisiting the past, then this disc won’t be for you either. But, if you’re interested in serious mainstream jazz performed by some of the greatest artists of current vintage, not to mention by one of today’s leading young tenor saxophonists, you are sure to find a lot to keep you happy. Furthermore, Eric Alexander’s longtime followers will find this to be his best record to date as a leader, no kiddin’!
For the uninitiated, tenor man Eric Alexander first made a name for himself while working the Chicago circuit and by cutting a few dates for Delmark. Next stop was New York and a distinguished series of discs for Criss Cross Jazz, followed most recently by his contract with the Fantasy group. Appropriately titled, The Second Milestone is Alexander’s sophomore effort for the Milestone imprimatur under the direction of producer Todd Barkan. In addition to a talented cast and superlative charts (more on that later), the session was cut by the legendary Rudy Van Gelder, whose activity with remastering the Blue Note catalog for Japan has kept his studio dates to a bare minimum. Needless to say, the sonics are excellent and Alexander’s sound is especially robust, owing a bit as well to a new mouthpiece acquired just in time for the session.
A 6/8 groove in the Coltrane vein, Eric takes on the old standard “Matchmaker, Matchmaker” and it’s a stout opening gambit. Harold Mabern is the first soloist and he makes the most of his spot, utilizing triplet figures to great effect. Eric comes on with just bass and drums strolling behind, with the tension building and some passages of over blowing adding to the visceral excitement.
Our title track is Alexander’s own straight-ahead swinger and is notable for a typically fine drum solo from Joe Farnsworth. The other two Alexander lines include “Luna Naranja” and “The Cliffs of Asturias.” The former is a lovely samba built on a six-note riff, while the latter sports a floating melody over an ostinato beat, vaguely calling to mind the spirit of Herbie Hancock’s “Maiden Voyage.” Both of these titles, as well as Mabern’s “The Man From Hyde Park,” make use of trumpeter Jim Rotondi’s bristling attack. Clearly, he emerges as one of the best of the post-Hubbard generation.
Alexander plainly states in the liners that he had nothing to prove in putting together this session. In terms of solo development, he is at the top of his game and there are no gratuitous pyrotechnic displays. In other words, Eric takes his time and this becomes ever so apparent on the slower numbers, such as the ballad “Moment to Moment” and the stately bossa “Estate.” Mabern is typically effusive in his best post Tyner form, with Washington and Farnsworth becoming a modern day equivalent of such classic rhythm partners as Chambers and Cobb or Jones and Hayes.