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Eric Alexander: Live at the Keynote

It’s nice to hear Alexander, a keeper of the hard-bop flame, in a live quartet setting for a change. Although recorded way back in 1999 at the Keynote in Tokyo, this was the period when Alexander was coming into his own, with his two best CDs-The First Milestone and The Second Milestone-soon to appear. His individual style was blossoming, he began using more of the tonal palette of the tenor sax and his sound gained even more warmth and authority.

Harold Mabern’s “The Bee Hive” is the opening burner and a CD highlight, with Nat Reeves and Joe Farnsworth briskly propelling things along. Alexander’s extended solo is accented at times by a shrieking, keening tone that’s new to his playing. Mabern’s solo here is stunning, typically modal in approach with a rock-solid left hand. Farnsworth’s commanding solo follows, full of ideas played with a beautiful sound on his drums that he exhibits throughout these performances.

The standards “Maybe September” and “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” get sensitive but full-bodied readings from Alexander, who had already become a masterful ballad interpreter. “In the Still of the Night” is taken uptempo, Alexander breezing creatively through the changes, Mabern’s comping a perfect fit. Mabern’s “Edward Lee” is reminiscent of Adderley’s “Work Song,” and the pianist delivers another captivating solo. Turrentine’s “Stan’s Shuffle” is a honking, preaching crowd-pleaser with a backbeat, eliciting shouts and unison clapping from the audience. “Alone Together” features a wonderful Reeves bass solo.

Seventy-three minutes of prime Alexander. Please don’t take this cat for granted-he’s the real deal.

Originally Published