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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Don Mather, Dick Stafford, John Eyles, Robert Gibson, Ian Lace, Colin Clarke, Jack Ashby



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ERIC ALEXANDER QUARTET

Prime Time

HighNote HCD 7201

 

 


 
CD Track Listing

1. Blues Like
2. One For Steve
3. Little Lucas
4. Pearls
5. Some Other Time
6. We All Love Eddie Harris
7. Nemesis
DVD Track Listing

1. Pearls
2. One For Steve
3. Nemesis
4. Little Lucas
5. Blues Like
6. We All Love Eddie Harris
7. Yasashiku (Gently)
8. First Impression
9. Prime Time

I have often praised Eric Alexcander when I have heard him on other people's albums - like those by Bob deVos last year and Mike LeDonne in 2006. So I was looking forward very much to this package - which includes a DVD as well as a CD, offering the chance to see Alexander's quartet as well as hear it. So why am I slightly disappointed by this set?

Eric undoubtedly has a formidable technique and he seems capable of playing anything at any speed. Perhaps that accounts for part of my discomfort. As the Emperor Joseph II famously observed about one of Mozart's works: 'Too many notes." Alexander shows a distinct similarity to John Coltrane - not only in his phenomenal ability to get around the tenor sax but also in his occasional tendency to produce sheets of sound which are impressive but don't necessarily say a lot. The same could be said about the other members of the quartet - all accomplished musicians but playing solos that are not notably eloquent.

Both the CD and the DVD sere recorded at the same concert - in Asheville, North Carolina, in April 2007. The DVD provides some clues as to why this set lacks a certain something. The musicians all look very serious - dressed in suits and rather resembling bank managers - without displaying many signs of emotion or excitement. The music flows along seamlessly but few moments stick in the memory. It is actually a relief to reach a ballad like Yasashiku (Gently), with a slower, more meditative approach, although even here you sense that Eric is eager to double the tempo to a medium bounce.

The lack of excitement is all the more surprising in view of the sixth track on both the CD and the DVD: We All Love Eddie Harris, a tribute to a saxophonist whose playing was often exhilarating (for example, in his famous albums with pianist Les McCann). The tune here (composed by pianist David Hazeltine) has some of the funkiness of Eddie Harris but little of his raw crowd-rousing. The DVD shows Eric encouraging the audience to clap on the offbeat and his solo includes some of Eddie Harris's licks, but the band never breaks sweat.

Three of the tunes on the DVD are not on the CD, and one on the CD is not on the DVD. The tracks shared by both media are not always identical - for example, the DVD version of One For Steve includes a bass solo which is absent from the CD (all rather confusing, really!). The sound quality is fine, although the DVD suffers from the stage sometimes being in semi-darkness.

As an extra, the DVD includes an interview with Eric Alexander. He describes how he had to give up playing classical piano because of "meltdowns during recitals". He realised that, in jazz, he could make mistakes and then make up for them - "or take that mistake and turn it into an idea". Perhaps this session would have benefited from a few more mistakes, which might have spurred the musicians to take more chances. Jazz can (and should) be serious but it can also benefit from risk-taking and even joie de vivre.

Tony Augarde



 

 

 

 

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