Soulful, songful and so clearly a recording made by musicians with common roots and an uncommon level of rapport, The Real Thing won’t disappoint fans of straight-ahead jazz that projects a timeless allure. The opening cut, the album’s title track, could be recommended on the strength of Eric Alexander’s full-throated tenor sax alone. Yet what ultimately stands out is the brand of unfettered swing that defines his working quartet featuring pianist Harold Mabern, bassist John Webber and drummer Joe Farnsworth.
While these winning traits are evident throughout the album, the arrival of special guest guitarist Pat Martino soon ups the ante. Tailor-made, Farnsworth’s “Pure Pat” provides Martino with a terrific showcase for his linear single-note virtuosity and blues-rooted expression; the combination of technique and feeling is enough to make your average pentatonic picker consider a career change. “Summertime” follows, with Martino crafting a leisurely paced, Wes Montgomery-shaded intro before the heat and tempo rise and his phrasing turns urgent and compelling.
Alexander, who has played extensively in Martino’s band, has developed the ability to sustain a similar level of intensity when necessary. The rhythm section also proves resourceful, as the moods shift from the buoyant “Little Boat” to Alexander’s evocative “For George and Trane” to Mabern’s “The Chief,” cast here as the quintet’s vibrant sendoff.