Eric Alexander and Vincent Herring – Friendly Fire – High Note HCD 7232, 62:45 ****½:
(Eric Alexander, tenor sax; Vincent Herring, alto sax; Mike LeDonne, piano; John Webber, bass; Carl Allen, drums)
Saxophone “duels” have a long history in jazz, among the most notable involving Dexter Gordon and Wardell Gray in the 1950s, and Sonny Stitt and Gene Ammons in the 1960s. It was always debatable how seriously the combatants took these blowing sessions, though it was a known fact that Sonny Stitt was a fairly competitive saxophonist.
I’m betting that Eric Alexander and Vincent Herring don’t take their meetings as serious competition. They previously recorded together in a 2005 Live at Smoke recording. (Smoke is an intimate jazz club in New York City, where Alexander and pianist LeDonne often play when they are not on the road.)
Eric and Vincent recorded another session at Smoke this past August, with the first rate rhythm section of Mike, John, and Carl. Song selection was mostly standards with two hard bop Hank Mobley compositions, and Herring’s “Timothy” being added to the mix.
Hank’s “Pat ‘N’ Chat” kicks off the CD and Eric and Vincent come blazing out of the gate. The groove they set is infectious and the sound mix is spot on for a live recording. Alexander and Herring produced this CD, and the mixing and editing by Paul Stache and Frank Christopher is commendable.
An interesting inclusion is “Sukiyaki,” which was a surprise hit in the US in 1963, and was the only Japanese pop tune to ever make it to the top of the Billboard charts. Here Vince and Eric give it a mellow, yet swinging presentation. I especially dug Herring’s blues-driven alto solo. The other Mobley tune, “Dig Dis” from Hank’s iconic 1960 Blue Note, Soul Station, session follows after the duo tackle McCoy Tyner‘s “Inception.”. Herring and Alexander show off their ensemble blend before each makes individual statements- classic hard bop.
Ballads are featured as well with Herring shining on “You’ve Changed,” and Alexander making “Mona Lisa” his own. The sole original, “Timothy,” written by Herring closes out Friendly Fire. It is also a ballad except for the sax solos where the tempo ups the ante.
The rhythm section supports the two saxes, and is there at every turn to keep the groove either hot or mellow and always swinging. LeDonne’s solo on “Dig Dis” is memorable, while Webber and Allen are rock solid accompanists.
Friendly Fire cooks and proves that where there is Smoke there is funky fire. For fans of 1960s Blue Note hard bop, the purchase of this CD is an easy decision. My only question is how to get the weekly Smoke musicians (LeDonne leads a Hammond B-3 night) out on the road, so the rest of the jazz community can have a taste of some of the best jazz being made today.
TrackList: Pat ‘N’ Chat, Sukiyaki, Inception, Dig Dis, You’ve Changed, Here’s That Rainy Day, Mona Lisa, Timothy
This is a special upscale audiophile vinyl that is worth it!