Monday, May 17, 2010

Eric Alexander Quartet - Chim Chim Cheree (Venus Jazz, 2010)

The spirit of John Coltrane looms large over this album by tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander. Playing a program of Coltrane originals and songs associated with him sets the bar high, but the music is successful and accessible. Supported by Harold Mabern on piano, John Webber on bass and Joe Farnsworth and drums, the group places their focus on the music recorded by Coltrane's "classic quartet" of the early and mid 1960's. "You Don't Know What Love Is" opens the album at ballad tempo, with the leader getting a deep tone and supported by rippling piano and subtle brushes. The music develops a sultry, late night feel and makes way for an unaccompanied tag ending for saxophone. The full band opens "Dear Lord" at a medium pace, with the saxophone swirling and taking a gently yearning tone. "On a Misty Night" returns to the ballad setting, with gently breathy saxophone building to a classical hard bop swing formation. A strong foundation of piano, bass and drums introduces "Chim Chim Cheree" with heavy sounding tenor saxophone striving for a more open modal feel. This fast and agile performance is the most overt Coltrane homage on the record, not necessarily "out" but more intense than most of Alexander's performances and quite well done. The legendary "Pursuance" from A Love Supreme blasts right off with strong drums and deep tenor and develops a muscular power that may lack the caustic cleansing of the original but is still a potent courageous improvisation that verges on overblowing at times, but never completely lets go. Strength is also the key point for "The Night has a Thousand Eyes" with a deeply swinging hard bop performance. After a fast and dexterous piano trio interlude, Alexander and Farnsworth trade nicely rolling phrases to close things out. While it may round off some of the rough edges of the music and lack the spiritual angst that propelled much of Coltrane's music, this is a well done album that pays tribute to someone who was clearly important to Alexander's musical development. Chim Chim Cheree -

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