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06/22/11

Eric Alexander
Don’t Follow the Crowd
HighNote Records

This is one of mainstream tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander’s better albums, mainly because the repertoire offers several new challenges. Alexander, now in his early 40s, and his familiar sidemen—pianist Harold Mabern, bassist Nat Reeves and drummer Joe Farnsworth—sound inspired and committed throughout. The quartet transforms tunes such as “She’s Out of My Life” (made famous by Michael Jackson), “Footsteps” (by smooth-jazz guitarist Steve Briody), “Cavatina” (from the movie The Deer Hunter) and “Don’t Misunderstand” (from Shaft’s Big Score! ) into solid jazz performances. Four tunes with greater jazz pedigree, including the lovely title tune by bassist Bill Lee (father of Spike), complete the program.

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The album opens with Alexander’s hard-driving “Nomor Senterbress,” a scalar modal tune, and you immediately warm up to the saxophonist’s exuberant, note-packed fluid lines and the adrenaline charge of the rhythm section. The group then turns to “She’s Out of My Life,” exhibiting a fetching ballad touch. Alexander conveys as fine a tone for this style as he does for “Nomor.” Mabern cooks on “Footsteps,” and then turns in another moving performance on Henry Mancini’s moody “Charade.”

Everyone doesn’t solo on every tune, and this seems to help the focus of the performances. Alexander is a prolific recording artist as well as a prolific improviser, but with this album he appears to have entered a more discerning phase—with no lapse in jazz integrity.

Originally published in June 2011
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