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Eric Alexander: Leap of Faith (Giant Step Arts)

A review of the tenor saxophonist's album featuring Doug Weiss and Johnathan Blake

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Leap of Faith-Eric Alexander
The cover of Leap of Faith by Eric Alexander

Eric Alexander is a master of hard-bop tenor saxophone whose work has been well documented on over 40 records as a leader. Leap of Faith comes as a shock. It unveils a new Alexander, one who lives on the edge: freer, rawer, more searching, more relentless.

One reason is the format. Only once before has Alexander recorded in a chordless trio. Here he is alone with bassist Doug Weiss and drummer Johnathan Blake. Other reasons have to do with Alexander’s new label and new producer/engineer. Giant Step Arts is a radical concept, a nonprofit dedicated to liberating artists from “sales chart expectations” and providing them with total creative freedom. The founder is Jimmy Katz, the renowned jazz photographer who is also a groundbreaking engineer, specializing in live recordings. Katz recorded Leap of Faith at the Jazz Gallery in New York. It captures the electricity, the juice, of a hot night in a club with the sonic resolution usually achievable only in the best studios.

From the opening track, “Luquitas,” Alexander’s ideas come in torrents. In his words, he “just lets things fly.” But two of his longstanding virtues, a classic tenor tone and conceptual clarity, keep his fierce strivings musical and harmonically coherent. “Hard Blues” and “Frenzy” are unleashed passion, shaped by Alexander’s sense of wholeness. “Second Impression” is a wild, 13-minute ride but also a clever contrafact based on John Coltrane’s “Impressions.”

Alexander is even better when he slows down. “Corazon Perdito” and “Big Richard” (a moving eulogy for his late father) linger over and around their forms and reveal his talent for locating emotion in spontaneous melody.

The austere, open format of the saxophone trio has stimulated some epic albums by people like Sonny Rollins, Joe Henderson, and Ornette Coleman. Add Eric Alexander to the list.

Thomas Conrad

Thomas Conrad has a BA from the University of Utah and an MA from the University of Iowa (where he attended the Writers Workshop). He taught English at Central State University in Ohio, then left the academic world for the private sector. His affiliation with publications such as JazzTimes, Stereophile, The New York City Jazz Record and DownBeat has enabled him to sustain active involvement in two of his passions: music and writing.