In addition to being one of the top tenor saxophonists of his generation, Eric Alexander has developed quite a following in Japan, as evidenced by his series of recordings for the Venus label. These 2004 sessions with pianist Mike LeDonne, bassist John Webber, and drummer Joe Farnsworth are much in the mold of John Coltrane's Ballads album of the early '60s. His rich, big-toned tenor is rhapsodic as he explores a number of timeless ballads, though more than a few have pretty much fallen out of favor among jazz musicians in the 21st century. Particularly welcome are his explorations of two gems by the late jazz pianist Mal Waldron, while the leader's "Gently" fits in perfectly with the more established pieces. Earle Hagen's "Harlem Nocturne" is played in two separate versions, the first being a bit laid-back, the latter at a brisk tempo with LeDonne adding an enticing vamp. The bluesy treatment of "Stormy Weather" is strangely credited to Duke Ellington, while Alexander's shimmering take of Billy Strayhorn's gorgeous "Chelsea Bridge" is an obvious highlight. ~ Ken Dryden
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