Tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander’s longtime collaborators Harold Mabern (piano) and Joe Farnsworth (drums) return for Second Impression, and the bond they’ve established over the course of several recordings is as strong as ever. But don’t be surprised if you find yourself fixating on Bob Cranshaw, who replaces John Webber on bass for this outing. Now 83, Cranshaw’s bona fides were established decades ago, and sometimes, perhaps, he can be taken for granted. Hearing him in the context of this session is a reminder that Cranshaw is an MVP, a master of timing and melodicism who adds dimension to anything on which he plays. Here, that means swinging like mad on the Alexander-penned title track, bringing broad coloration to Wes Montgomery’s “Full House” or walking so smooth on Jimmy Smith’s “T-Bone Steak.”
As for Alexander, the always-reliable leader is particularly inspired. The saxophonist, now 48, is on fire out of the gate on the aforementioned title track, inspired by (but considerably more tempered than) Coltrane’s “Impressions.” With his rhythm section maintaining a barnburning pace, Alexander is free to investigate highs, lows and hidden places in between, laying back just long enough to spotlight Mabern and Farnsworth, then kicking it up again.
It’s not all hectic. Farnsworth’s “Jennie’s Dance,” incorporating electric bass and piano, starts off deep into the funk, backs off slightly, then decides it likes that groove after all. The bossa-nova-informed “So Many Stars” needn’t be anything but sensual and smooth, and “Everything Happens to Me,” the Sinatra-associated ballad, is played straight, sweet and pretty.