Sax in the City: It's All In The Game and Ends And Means
In 2005 Eric Alexander and Vincent Herring teamed up to make The Battle - one of the year's hardest swinging records. Recorded live at Smoke, it featured fabulous toe-to-toe blowing by the hardbopping saxophonists on an exciting April-night-in-New-York club set. A couple of months later, the two leaders crossed the river into New Jersey to record individual studio sessions with their own working groups and the resultant dates are every bit as rewarding to hear.
Alexander's It's All In The Game, recorded at the famed Rudy Van Gelder Studios in Englewood, features the muscular tenor saxophonist with the formidable rhythm section of veteran pianist Harold Mabern, bassist Nat Reeves and drummer Joe Farnsworth on a mainstream outing that recalls some of the great quartet recordings Dexter Gordon, John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins made at the same location. The leader, whose bold and beautiful sound just keeps getting better, plays on an appealing program, assembled with the help of Mabern, that updates some classic material, unearths some rarely heard gems and introduces some new originals.
The group's opening orchestration of "Where Or When transforms the Rodgers and Hart ballad into an up-tempo vehicle for harmonically inventive improvisation. Alexander's "Typhoon 11 is a Latinish line that recalls Cedar Walton compositionally. The band's beautiful readings of "Where Is The Love and "It's All In The Game , songs seldom heard in jazz circles, are surely destined to be classics. The minor blues "Open and Shut , an attractive original by the leader, is followed by the quartet's intriguing arrangement of Monk's "Ruby My Dear as an up-tempo waltz. Another appealing melody by Alexander, "Little Lucas , once again reveals his continuing development as a composer. The closing "Bye Bye Baby is a flag waver that the players race through with the exhilarating virtuosity that they regularly demonstrate in their live performances.
Herring's Ends and Means is a characteristically rewarding date from the soulful saxophonist. Accompanied by pianist Danny Grissett, bassist Essiet Essiet and drummer Joris Dudli, with trumpeter Jeremy Pelt added on half the tracks, the altoist performs with the pure fire and authoritative vigor that has made him a perpetual favorite among musicians and listeners for over two decades. The music moves from swinging hard bop (pianist Renato Chicco's title track and Mulgrew Miller's "Wingspan ) to funky contemporary jazz (Dudli's "Tom Tom and "Thoughts ) to inventive arrangements of jazz and pop standards, like Irving Berlin's "The Song Is Ended , Lennon/McCartney's "Norwegian Wood , Benny Golson's "Stablemates and Ellington and Tizol's "Caravan . The satisfying variety makes the disc an enjoyable entry into Herring's discography.
Tracks and Personnel
It's All In The Game
Tracks: Where or When Hart; Typhoon 11; Where Is the Love; It's All in the Game; Open and Shut; Ruby My Dear; Little Lucas; Bye Bye Baby.
Personnel: Eric Alexander; tenor saxophone; Harold Mabern: piano; Nat Reeves: bass; Joe Farnsworth: drums.
Ends and Means
Tracks: Ends and Means; Tom Tom; The Song Is Ended; Stable Mates; Norwegian Wood; Wingspan; Thoughts; Caravan.
Personnel: Vincent Herring: tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone; Danny Grissett: piano; Essiet Essiet: bass; Joris Dudli: drums; Jeremy Pelt: trumpet.