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Mode For Mabes by Eric Alexander with Harold Mabern

Delmark Records a classic label out of Chicago, known for its great jazz and blues artist’s since 1953 has reissued some hard to get cd’s. I had the pleasure of discovering one of Eric Alexander’s early Delmark recordings, Mode For Mabes recorded in 1997 and released in 98. This album was made when Alexander was 27 years old and this is his 4th Delmark CD. Joined by Mabes (Harold Mabern), on piano and featuring a front line of trumpet by Jim Rotondi and trombone care of Steve Davis. The rhythm section is filled out by the bassist John Webber and drummer George Fludas. This is classic hard bop in a style reminiscent of the Jazz Messengers.

Eric Alexander shows off his great tenor playing on one of his early recordings. He has a grand tone and his ideas flow in a wonderfully smooth fashion. His early influences were Sonny Stitt, Dexter Gordon and George Coleman. At this period of time in Alexander’s career I hear a style similar to Dexter Gordon. Strong playing, rapid runs and clean, precise solos that build in intensity - these are tributes that made up hard bop and Alexander epitomizes this style of play.

The title track kicks off the recording in high energy fashion sounding as a big band finale with full crescendo drum rolls and cymbals swelling, riding on rapid saxophone runs and transitioning to a mid tempo up beat melody with the horns swinging in funky harmony. Harold Mabern takes flight with intricate runs - delicate, finely woven, tasteful, dynamic and adding depth with off sounding jumpy chords. The song, written by Alexander and Rotondi "Mode For Mabes" has the horns blending, harmonizing and stepping out from each other to compliment and enhance the melodic free for all.

Of the eight tracks on Mode For Mabes the highlights for me are the tunes that swing hard. Including the aforementioned title track, this includes "Eric The Red", composed by Steve Davis. A swinging number with a soulful feel and a little funk that makes this an exciting tune. "Love Thy Neighbor" by Revel and Gordon, another of the swinging tunes that find all the members of the band feeding off each other and playing in excellent form. "Stay Straight" by Alexander and Rotondi finds the band in swing groove again and playing powerfully.

There is the blues of "Sugar Ray" by Phineas Newborn Jr. There are the ballads where the playing is pretty, "Stairway to the Stars" by Maineck, Parish, Signorelli and "For Heavens Sake" by Myers, Bretton and Edwards featuring Alexander and the front line playing fine stylized lines with vibrato and sustain, oozing with romantic overtones.

The closer "Naima" by John Coltrane is played with fire and passion, a song you just don’t want to end. At slightly over 11 minutes in length it seems like it’s just starting to sizzle when the band plays their last downbeat. The rhythm section is at their peak on this tune, driven by the excellent drumming of George Fludas. Mode For Mabes is Alexander and Mabern at their best.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Eric Alexander with Harold Mabern
  • CD Title: Mode For Mabes
  • Genre: BeBop / Hard Bop
  • Year Released: 2009
  • Reissue Original Release: 1998
  • Record Label: Delmark Records
  • Tracks: Mode For Mabes, Sugar Ray, For Heaven’s Sake, Erik The Red, Love Thy Neighbor, Stay Straight, Stairway To The Stars, Naima
  • Musicians: Eric Alexander (tenor sax), Jim Rotondi (trumpet), Steve Davis (trombone), Harold Mabern (piano), John Webber (bass), George Fludas (drums)
  • Rating: Four Stars
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