Eric Alexander – Chicago Fire – High Note HCD 7262, 56:01 ****½:
(Eric Alexander – tenor sax; Jeremy Pelt – trumpet (tracks 1, 2, 7); Harold Mabern – piano; John Webber – bass; Joe Farnsworth – drums)
After his studies at William Patterson College in New Jersey, not ready to tackle the Big Apple, Eric Alexander relocated to Chicago. Under the tutelage of famed Memphis pianist and educator, Harold Mabern, Eric jumped in with both feet into Chicago’s vibrant jazz scene – the proving grounds of some of the greatest jazz tenor stylists including Johnny Griffin, Von Freeman, Gene Ammons, and Clifford Jordan.
At age 22, Alexander began the process that has led him to be a major force in hard bop and mainstream jazz some two decades later. Hammond B-3 groups were a major part of the Chicago scene, and Eric learned from a master, Charles Earland.
The opening track on Chicago Fire, “Save Your Love for Me” is dedicated to Earland. Other tributes abound and include honors given to Eddie Harris, Johnny Griffin, Von Freeman, and Sonny Stitt. Backing Alexander is his muse, Harold Mabern, the phenomenal Jeremy Pelt on trumpet on three tracks, plus the rhythm section from One for All, John Webber on bass and Joe Farnsworth on drums.
This CD was recorded at Rudy Van Gelder’s studio so there are no issues with sound quality here. And you’ll find no filler here. Every track has a strong sense of swing, not unexpected from a group of this stature. Alexander has developed an “old school” professionalism that puts him in the upper echelon of saxophone players who can approach future legendary status. His ballad playing is warm and mature, and he can dig in and blow hard and fast when needed, yet he is in no speed race to impress.
The Earland tribute is soul jazz personified, while “The Bee Hive” ups the ante with Eric and Jeremy in overdrive. “Eddie Harris” has the groove quotient that honors its inspiration. Von Freeman was the Chicago tenor legend who passed away in 2012, at age 88. Content to play almost exclusively in The Windy City, Freeman was the one cat to check out when visiting Chicago. Alexander expresses his love for Von on “Blueski for Vonski.” I dug the opening “rap” about Freeman by Harold Mabern, before Eric shows his mastery of tenor sax blues.
Doug Ramsey’s erudite liner notes point out that all the tunes on this CD are first takes, or only takes, and that there were no rehearsals. With Rudy Van Gelder at the helm, and the ace quartet/quintet strutting their stuff, what else would you expect?
TrackList: Save Your Love for Me, The Bee Hive, Eddie Harris, Just One of Those Things, Blueski for Vonski, Mr. Stitt, You Talk That Talk, Don’t Take Your Love From Me