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Eric Alexander: It’s All In the Game

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The sharp-toned and sharpminded tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander stretches into a few different directions on his latest album but never loses his sure personal voice. Waxing Sonny Rollins-esque comes naturally to the 37-year old, who spins out charismatic solos while keeping control of tonal and structural balance. Recorded in one day with Rudy Van Gelder and a crack band that includes veteran pianist Harold Mabern, bassist Nat Reeves and drummer Joe Farnsworth, Alexander has created an unpretentious and wholly satisfying session.

Starting with a brisk read on “Where or When,” Alexander alternates poles of brightness and lyricism, of warm- spiritedness and an adventurer’s taste for melodic left turns. He traverses more contemporary, commercial turf with a cover of the Robert Flack-Donny Hathaway tune “Where Is the Love” and shows a flair for originals, showcasing different elements of his playing with each: “Typhoon 11” gives vent to his Coltrane-ish turns, “Open and Shut” is a hard-boppish minor blues vehicle and “Little Lucas,” dedicated to his young son, features buoyant swing contrasting with the puzzlelike poetry of the changes. Alexander, cushioned by Mabern’s chordal foundation, gives a stately, balladic grace to the lovely melodic contours of the title track and takes Thelonious Monk’s “Ruby, My Dear” out of the balladic zone and into a propulsive waltz pulse.