Saturday, March 2, 2013

Eric Alexander Touching HighNote 2013

TouchingNothing is certain in this world with the exception of death, taxes, and Eric Alexander...O.K. so this is my riff on the famous Benjamin Franklin quotation but the trademark of Alexander is his remarkable consistency no matter the music or the supporting cast in and around him. There is something to be said for an old school, old soul player that is as technically proficient as he is artistically gifted and this fits Eric Alexander to perfection. 

The HighNote/Savant family tends to specialize in more traditional straight ahead jazz as do but only a handful of labels but their ability to put the right people in the right spot to best make use of their artistry is uncanny. Engineered, mixed & mastered by the legendary Rudy Van Gelder should be enough reason for most people to take a listen to Touching which is understated elegance that reminds this critic of the days of Hank Mobley, Dexter Gordon, and Ben Webster. No one sounds like Alexander today with most new players concentrating on flash with little substance. Touching finds Alexander taking a more minimalistic approach with no notes wasted and the beauty of a simply melody in turn guiding the 4tet into the lyrical possibilities that seem to be been placed in the jazz witness protection program.

One tune which takes a special place as part of the jazz holy grail is the John Coltrane classic "Central Park West." The Alexander arrangement while uniquely his own riff is a reharm that features a gorgeous opening from Harold Mabern on piano with Alexander's soulful riff a true moment of musical bliss. Another ballad oriented tune is the Sammy Cahn/Jimmy Van Heusen tune "The September Of My Years." Moving with an understated elegance that has become an Alexander trademark the tune is reinvented with solid harmonic foundation that is sadly missing from some players as they tend to hang out in odd meter while lyrically spinning their wheels. Harold  Mabern turns in another gem on piano. John Weber on bass and Joe Farnsworth on drums round out for this critic what may be the most under appreciated rhythm section in modern jazz today. Pop covers on an old school release drive me insane with the exception of Alexander as he crushes the Chi-Lites smash "Oh Girl." Some pop tunes simply don't translate well but my opinion would have to be the lyrical sense of purpose combined with a solid harmonic base could have Alexander chart Metallica and make it work. The glue here? A deceptively subtle touch of Memphis soul running just below the surface of the entire release.

Easily one of the best for 2013...Perfection on a shiny silver disc! Eric Alexander is as cool as the other side of the pillow.

Tracks: Touching; Gone Too Soon; The Way She Makes Me Feel; Dinner For One Please, James; Central Park West; I'm Glad There Is You; The September Of My Years; Oh Girl.

Personnel: Eric Alexander: tenor saxophone; Harold Mabern: piano; John Webber: bass (except 4); Joe Farnsworth: drums (except 4).