It’s been more than half a century since hard bop was born and blossomed. Despite the inevitable passing of many of its creators and brightest lights, the form remains alive and kicking on certain nights in certain clubs. For proof, consider Friendly Fire, the joint live album from veteran saxophonists Eric Alexander (tenor) and Vincent Herring (alto). Recorded over two August nights last year at the Manhattan club Smoke, the disc features the co-leaders in friendly battle, with strong rhythmic support from pianist Mike LeDonne, bassist John Webber and drummer Carl Allen.
Each sax man gets a ballad to explore alone with the trio. Herring’s tone calls to mind one of his heroes, Cannonball Adderley, on a lovely reading of “You’ve Changed,” and Alexander manages not to let memories of Nat King Cole overwhelm his take on “Mona Lisa.” But the burners impress, too. Hank Mobley’s familiar “Pat ’n’ Chat” kicks off the set in high gear, the saxophonists and LeDonne each soloing with aplomb. Mobley’s bluesy “Dig Dis” arrives later, lopes along charmingly at mid-tempo, and is another highlight. So is McCoy Tyner’s “Inception,” with Alexander even managing to toss in a quick quote from John Coltrane’s “Mr. P.C.”
Newer material includes the successful transformation of the 1963 Billboard chart-topper “Sukiyaki” into a credible jazz vehicle, and a Herring original, “Timothy,” that starts off ballad-like before building in vigor and intensity. Smoke patrons saw some great stuff those two summer nights, much of it preserved here for the rest of us.