Eric Alexander – Revival of the Fittest – High Note HCD 7205, 55:44 ****1/2:
(Eric Alexander, tenor sax; Harold Mabern, piano; Nat Reeves, bass; Joe Farnsworth, drums- Mike LeDonne guests on piano on Yasashiku)
Eric Alexander is one busy tenor player. As well as recording three to four CDs per year for either High Note, Milestone, or Japanese jazz labels like Venus, Pony Canyon, and Tokuma, Eric also records with the hard bop supreme group, One for All. He also is becoming the first choice sideman for New York recorded straight ahead and hard bop sessions. I count close to thirty recordings with Alexander as leader in the last 17 years. That’s quite impressive for a forty-one year old jazz artist.
What makes his latest High Note Records recording, Revival of the Fittest, special is the fact that it largely features the more mellow side of Alexander. He has made several “Gentle Ballads” CDs for Japanese jazz labels, but this is perhaps his first such CD for a U.S. based label. It does have a few burners such as the title cut, but it mainly features more laid back fare written by pianist and mentor, Harold Mabern, as well as tracks by Ivan Lins, Michel Legrand, and David Foster. When I saw on the tracklist that “My Own Grown-Up Christmas List” was included I fully expected a dud. However, Alexander’s arrangement is beautiful and jazzwise it passes the hip test.
Another of Eric’s influences, George Coleman, wrote the title cut, Revival, and it begins the CD on a swinging note. Alexander’s playing seems effortless. His tone has the best of old school players such as Coleman’s. Eric can swing and also play some “out” phrases, knowing that Mabern is pushing the pulse and his One for All partner, Joe Farnsworth, has his back providing the drum beat that this song needs. Christmas List is next and Alexander’s tenor is so sweet but not in a saccharine way. You just feel that he can make most anything swing – he may be the best of the younger generation to have the proper swing feel for a ballad or pop song. He keeps you interested, yet satisfied in a mellow mood. Mabern’s solo is that of a pro, not for show, but for interpreting the intent the songwriter had in his composition.
Ivan Lin’s The Island is a pretty bossa nova that Eric and Harold polish like a fine gem. Mabern’s Too Late Fall Back Baby is next and it picks up the pace as a funky blues, a style that Harold owns. On Love – Wise Alexander and Mabern trade verses, and show that they are a perfect pair to share a mellow mood. Another blues follows with Blues for Phineas, which goes back to Mabern’s 1969 Prestige date, Wailin’.
Michel Legrand’s standard, You Must Believe in Spring, is given a Latin treatment with Farnsworth leading the way. Alexander’s CD closes with a track that was recorded two weeks later – Yasashiku (Gently) – as a duo with Alexander and pianist Mike LeDonne. It was first recorded in 2004 for One for All’s Blueslike CD. It provides a fitting closure for a CD that would make for great late night listening while sipping a cocktail and letting the day’s hassles go on hiatus, and truly relaxing to some gorgeous playing by an all-star jazz quartet.
Kudos go out as usual to Rudy Van Gelder, who engineered, mixed, and mastered this superb CD. Having Rudy on board gives Eric the freedom to set a mood that lasts near an hour of pure bliss. This would be a great CD to play for “smooth jazz” friends so they can hear what a REAL tenor sax quartet can bring to the table.
TrackList: Revival, My Grown-Up Christmas List, The Island, Too Late Fall Back Baby, Love-Wise, Blues for Phineas, You Must Believe in Spring, Yasashiku (Gently)
— Jeff Krow