By Michael Katz
If you were to see Eric Alexander on the street you would probably not envision a fiery lead saxophonist – more like a scrappy second baseman from the local community college. The youthful look is deceiving. Fortyish now, Alexander has matured into a hard swinging leader on the tenor. While he doesn’t have the immediately identifiable tone of a Stanley Turrentine or Ernie Watts, his playing has an urgency that grabs your attention and holds it. Backed by the David Hazeltine Trio, with Michael Zissman on bass and L.A. stalwart Roy McCurdy on drums, Alexander performed to an appreciative Saturday night crowd at the Jazz Bakery.
The group opened with “Blues Like,” a Hazeltine composition with an up tempo blues line. Alexander set the tone for the night, alternately delivering high octane improvisation, then laying back while pianist Hazeltine and bassist Zissman backed each other on their solos. The set continued with the romantic Ivan Lins/Victor Martins standard, “The Island” (“Comecar de Novo”). Alexander will never be confused with the cool Stan Getz/Lester Young school. His slower tunes are smoldering; they give you the feeling of a thunderstorm crackling in the distance, a Scotch in hand.
Alexander moved on with an unnamed, Sonny Rollins-like hard charger, showing off his chops with a lengthy solo sans the trio. He followed with Jimmy Webb’s “Didn’t We,” a duet with David Hazeltine. The duet was a refreshing change of pace; Hazeltine is an effective match for Alexander, equaling his intensity on the piano, while lowering the temperature for intimacy. Again, Alexander exhibits a muscular style, even on the softer tunes, but it’s an arresting tone that makes you pay attention to every note.
It’s always a pleasure to hear Roy McCurdy, veteran of stints with Cannonball Adderly and Nancy Wilson among his many credits. Besides the steady timekeeping, you know there’s always an explosive solo ready to break out, in this case on Alexander’s last number, another burner entitled “Road To Marostica.”
All in all an engaging, well constructed set that showed off one of the top tenor players on the scene today.