Eric Alexander – Don’t Follow the Crowd – High Note 7220, 53:18 ****:
(Eric Alexander, tenor sax; Harold Mabern, piano; Nat Reeves, bass;
Joe Farnsworth, drums)
I have eagerly followed Eric Alexander’s career for many years, both as a member of One for All, as a first choice sideman for numerous young lions of jazz, and lastly, recording as a leader on his own projects. He has recorded for at least eight labels both Stateside and in Japan. I have reviewed his High Note label CDs since 2006, as follows:
Alexander’s muscular fully-developed tenor sound was realized well before 2006, so I cannot say that I can sense a greater maturity throughout the last five years. What does stand out is that whatever session that Alexander leads will be fully professional, swinging, and his song mixture show impeccable taste, both in his own compositions and in his choice of standards that he interprets.
His latest effort, Don’t Follow the Crowd, is in a quartet setting with veteran pianist Harold Mabern, and regular rhythm section mates Nat Reeves and Joe Farnsworth. Eric wrote only two of the tracks – “Nomor Senterbress” and “Remix Blues.” He continues to surprise with unlikely song choices, this time with interpretations of film score tracks from The Deer Hunter, as well as Shaft’s Big Score.
“Nomor” opens with Alexander’s trademark, a mix of the mellow with some twists of free blowing. Farnsworth, as usual, is fully in synch riding the cymbals in an upfront mix that spurs Eric on. “She’s Out of My Life”, made famous by Michael Jackson, here gets a sumptuous lyrical feeling that Alexander, the master of the ballad, makes his own. Great slow dancing music…
“Footsteps” features the sparkling mastery of Harold Mabern. Harold seems so effortless in his backing of Alexander that you can see why Eric uses him so often. Henry Mancini’s “Charade” an Oscar-nominated song, was according to the liner notes, a last minute addition to the session. Eric had never played this song before, but after listening who would know?
Gordon Park’s “Don’t Misunderstand” from Shaft fame gets a re-working into a bossa nova rhythm. Eric opens up on “Remix Blues” and with his twenty years experience in the studio, he makes the full range of his horn sound so effortless as he plays the changes. The title track written by Spike Lee’s father, Bill, is another melt-your-heart lyrical dance.
“Cavatina”, from The Deer Hunter soundtrack, ends our latest visit on High Note from Mr. Alexander. I’ve become spoiled reviewing Eric’s recordings as I can predict while peeling the plastic from the jewel case, that I’m in for an enjoyable ride – pure professionalism…
TrackList: Nomor Senterbress, She’s Out of My Life, Footsteps, Charade, Don’t Misunderstand, Remix Blues, Don’t Follow the Crowd, Cavatina
– Jeff Krow