Eric Alexander was born August 4, 1968 in Galesburg, Illinois. (Yes, today is his birthday. Happy Birthday, Eric!) His family moved to Olympia, Washington when he was 2, and at age 6 he began playing piano. Later he took up first the alto sax and then tenor.
After graduation from William Patterson College in New Jersey, Alexander began an association with legendary jazz organist Charles Earland that would last until Earland’s untimely death in 1999 at age 58.
Alexander has been a frequent visitor to recording studios, and has released more than thirty albums as leader thus far in his career. In addition to Earland, Alexander has performed with Kenny Barron, Randy Johnston, Eddie Henderson, Pat Martino, Cecil Payne, Freddie Cole and others.
The album I have chosen to write about this time around was Alexander’s first using Earland as a sideman and, as it turned out, their final collaboration. That is the 2000 HighNote release, “Alexander The Great”.
The personnel for this recording are:
Eric Alexander, tenor sax
James Rotondi, trumpet (all tracks except 3 & 7)
Charles Earland, Hammond B3 organ
Peter Bernstein, guitar
Joe Farnsworth, drums
Additionally, the recording engineer was Rudy VanGelder.
“Alexander The Great” consists of eight songs, two of which were written by Alexander. One of them, “Burner’s Waltz,” kicks off the session. It begins with Bernstein’s guitar, and he is quickly joined by Alexander and Rotondi and then Earland. About a minute in everyone except Alexander and Earland step back and we are treated to the master and his former student, equals at last, burning their way through this hot treat. Then Alexander’s sax falls quiet and Rotondi takes the lead alongside Earland, until Bernstein once more takes over. “Burner’s Waltz” is not book-reading music, and at seven and a half minutes you get your money’s worth out of it.
I wasn’t able to find video treatments of any of the songs from this album, so in that great jazz tradition, I’m improvising. 😉 Here is Eric Alexander doing the song “Mr. Stitt” from his 2003 release, “Heavy Hitters.”
Al Green’s hit, “Let’s Stay Together”, is next. This one really gives everyone an opportunity to strut their stuff. Alexander’s big, warm tenor fills your speakers, and when it’s over you’ll be amazed that almost six minutes has gone by so quickly.
“Explosion” is the other Alexander composition on this album, and it would be hard to argue with the choice of title. The whole group jumps in at the beginning and runs with it.
“Through The Fire” was a mega hit for Chaka Khan in 1984. Fifteen years later, Alexander and company do it as a dynamic ballad, seemingly slowing the pace and keeping it up at the same time. Pop song or not, in the hands of this group, “Through The Fire” is about as jazz as they come.
The last song I’m going to write about was penned by guitarist Peter Bernstein: “Carrot Cake”. This is another quiet piece, given a lively feel by the constant beat of Farnsworth’s bass drum from start to finish. Bernstein gives himself a delightful solo about a minute and a half in, followed by Rotondi’s trumpet and then Alexander. The last minute and a half or so are dominated by Earland and his B3, accompanied by that constant beat from Farnsworth, and then it all fades to silence.
I feel safe in saying that you will find Eric Alexander’s “Alexander The Great” to be a wonderful addition to your personal playlist, for a Saturday or any other night!
You can learn more about Eric Alexander and his music by visiting his web site. There is also a brief biography and an extensive discography for him on the Wikipediaweb site.
You can also follow Eric on Twitter: @EricAlexanderjz
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