Sunday, July 8, 2012

ERIC ALEXANDER AND VINCENT HERRING'S 'FRIENDLY FIRE' IS A TEXTBOOK BLOWING SESSION


I promised myself a few days ago I’d stop reviewing jazz albums. The past three months, I’ve been swamped with new ones. I needed a break, and I figured a week or so would be enough time to unwind. I reneged on that promise yesterday.  Never will I be able to stop listening to jazz. I could stop writing about it for a few days at least I thought . Eric, I discovered expecting that was unrealistic. I played Friendly Fire, the live album you cut with alto sax player Vincent Herring that High Note Records released in March.  

From the opening cut Pat’ N ’ Chat, the album kidnapped my ears. Friendly Fire is the second time you and Herring have hooked up for what writer Donald Elfman, called a classic cutting contest. Eric, I disagree with Elfman calling Friendly Fire that.

Friendly Fire could’ve been mistaken for a cutting contest. It had the same attitude and energy those historic blowing sessions that starred tenor sax players Johnny Griffin and Eddie “Lock Jaw” Davis. Friendly Fire is a  textbook blowing session.

I won’t claim you and Vincent have the same styles, but you share a brotherly understanding of each other’s mechanics, which made Friendly Fire transcend a cutting contest. Someday, the album will be a classic studied by budding tenor sax tag teams. You can bank on that.

Friendly Fire showed two licensed swingers blowing like mad. I wondered if the band--drummer Carl Allen, piano player Mike LeDonne, and bass player John Webber--had to fireproof the clothes they wore to  prevent them from catching fire when you and Vincent soloed. The great thing about Friendly Fire was you and Vincent never intended to upstage each other, or turn the session into a meaningless cutting contest. Of course, things  could’ve gone that way, but the rhythm section kept the session kosher. 


Had the late saxophone player Hank Mobley witnessed how you and Vincent repainted his masterpieces Pat ’N' Chat from Mobley’s Blue Note album The Turnaround and Dig Dis from Soul Station I’m sure Mobley would’ve bragged to his friends what masters you guys have become.

Eric, your style is like some of the tenor sax players Dexter Gordon, Joe Henderson, Ike Quebec,  and of course Mobley. Forgive me for comparing you. Players of your ilk and accomplishments hate being compared, but I couldn’t help myself. When you soloed on Sukiyaki, Inception, and Timothy I thought about those saxophone players.

The true sign of a great sax player is his ability to play ballads. That’s my opinion. Working on up-tempo burners is second nature for most jazz saxophone players. There’s a science to playing ballads. You and Vincent know how to cheer up a sad song. 

Vincent wrapped his arms around You Have Changed, comforting it, and you put your hands on Mona Lisa’s waist and dance with it like a prom date. Friendly Fire is the kind of throwback blowing session expected when you and Vincent hook up. I reneged on my promise to stop reviewing jazz albums for a week or so. For that I blame you guys.
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