Friday, March 23, 2012

Eric Alexander and Vincent Herring - Friendly Fire (High Note, 2012)

Both tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander and alto saxophonist Vincent Herring have had longstanding and successful careers as leaders and sidemen on the modern mainstream jazz scene. On this album they pool their talents in a non-competitive jam session recorded live at the Smoke Jazz Club in the company of Mike LeDonne on piano, John Webber on bass and Carl Allen on drums. "Pat 'n' Chat" has an uptempo unison opening. Swirling and snaking intertwined saxophones play together and then break out for individual solos at fast pace, tenor then alto. Herring takes a really nice and intricate alto solo followed by a fast piano, bass and drums interlude. The band returns together for a unison take out. "Sukiyaki" is a slower ballad with gentle tenor lead then a zestful medium tempo trade off of saxophone ideas. Tart alto plays over a supportive piano trio, with the group taking their time, not forcing the music. Alexander gives a gutsy Dexter Gordon like tenor solo, spooling out at length, before piano trio break. The track "Inception" has the saxophones swinging together in a complex melody before tenor breaks out to solo. Alexander takes a dexterous (no pun intended) uptempo tenor solo, with a Coltrane quote to boot. A percolating alto saxophone solo follows, building a head of steam, egged on by the piano trio animated by LeDonne's splashy chords, who then gets of his own displaying great speed and facility. The saxophonists traded phrases with the drummer at the end. The classic Hank Mobley composition "Dig Dis" is ushered in with swaggering melody and killer backbeat. There is a strong bluesy gospelish feel in the saxophone and piano soloing. They develop a cool Jazz Messengers like feel, using the scaffolding of the tune as a springboard for some great soloing, along with a swinging and peppy piano, bass and drums section. "You've Changed" is a slow ballad with nice subtle brushwork from Carl Allen. Tenor leads, telling a late night in the rainy cityscape story, noirish, but hearty. "Mona Lisa" has a piano vamp with alto taking the first mid-tempo solo, building to a nice majestic performance. Alexander takes his turn, developing his solo in an architectural manner followed by a lengthy rippling piano led interlude. ”Timothy” is a short spacious ballad for saxophone and piano. A longer version of ”Timothy” follows and is is still a ballad, but with the full band playing a subtly spoken tune led by Herring's alto that glides and swirls gently. Alexander's tenor comes back in and raises things to a simmer with cymbals and bass keeping time. The heat is gradually turned up as the solo gets more intense before giving way to the piano trio. everyone comes together ending with a return to the ballad tempo. This was a a fun and enjoyable album. Fans of the saxophone "duel" albums from the likes of Gene Ammons and Sonny Stitt or Johnny Griffin and Eddie ”Lockjaw” Davis will feel right at home. Friendly Fire - amazon.com

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