Eric Alexander – Chicago Fire
(HighNote HCD 7262. CD Review by Peter Vacher)
Hearing tenorist Eric Alexander unfettered and at length, is for me one of the greatest treats in jazz. This imposing improviser is reunited here with his mentor, the veteran pianist Harold Mabern and they’re joined by another hot favourite, the always daring trumpeter Jeremy Pelt on three of the eight tracks. Add in the sublime engineering of Rudy Van Gelder and the swing engendered by bassist John Webber and drummer Joe Farnsworth and you have a formula for excellence, if ever there was one.
Alexander produced the session [it dates from November 2013] as both a reminder of and a homage to his seminal period as a working sideman and soloist in Chicago. ‘Save Your Love For Me’ by Buddy Johnson opens, with the kind of peachy groove that might best described as a ‘Freddie Freeloader’ feel, Alexander off and running hard, with Mabern probing over that great rhythm section. Pelt comes in with an ebullient, heartfelt solo as he does on ‘The Bee Hive’, Mabern’s bright recall of a famous Chicago club, its feel-good hook evocative of a time when Chicago’s venues were at their peak. Alexander’s ‘Eddie Harris’ is for one of his heroes, the composer taking the honours here, warm-toned and hard swinging, sounding ready to step in to a Blue Note session should there be one handy.
Mabern contributes ‘Blues for Vonski’, a tribute to another Chicago legend, Von Freeman this time, this rather touchingly introduced by some spoken reminiscences of Freeman by Mabern and Webber, ahead of Alexander’s very bluesy tenor theme, his sound and phrasing suitably righteous, before Mabern rolls the blues like a South Side master. Magnificent music by both. Alexander gives ‘Just One of Those Things’ a seeing to that would have made the late Johnny Griffin beam, the tenor complexities and speed of execution like a one-man cutting contest. Mabern’s ‘Mr Stitt’ is a smart piece, Alexander getting to grips with its changes and launching a long extemporisation, seemingly never at a loss yet eschewing any tendency for meaningless display.
With ‘You Talk That Talk’, a riff original by organist Leon Spencer, Alexander reunites with Pelt in playfully soulful fashion before ‘Don’t Take Your Love From Me’, with Alexander in relaxed yet funky form rounds out a superb set, all first takes, the music fresh and vigorous, old and new masters of the art in happy accord. One for the Record of the Year polls? For sure.