Eric Alexander

Leap Of Faith
(Giant Step Arts)

Eric Alexander has established an impressive career as one of today’s most solid post-hard-bop torchbearers. His extensive discography admirably showcases his improvisational prowess on the tenor saxophone, his indisputable command of modern bop’s vocabulary and his respect for the idiom’s lodestars (mostly through his longstanding work with pianist Harold Mabern).

The idea of Alexander being an adventurer who’ll sometimes explore the outer reaches of modern jazz seldom pops up in people’s minds. That might change, though, with his absorbing new disc, Leap Of Faith.

As the title suggests, the bandleader forgoes a little of his safety net by soaring inside a piano-less trio (except for one track where the bandleader adds piano). The lack of harmonic support certainly frees him up and allows listeners a greater sense of his combustible tone, aggressive rhythmic attack and near-flawless sense of melodically cogent improvisations.

While there’s nothing on Leap Of Faith that immediately recalls Albert Ayler or Archie Shepp, this is Alexander at his most avant-garde. Captured live in August 2018 at New York’s Jazz Gallery, drummer Johnathan Blake and bassist Doug Weiss create protean spaces for Alexander to roam freely, as well as prompting him to engage in more discreet interplay.

Shades of John Coltrane and George Coleman never are far away when Alexander plays. Influence of the former, though, seems more apparent on Leap Of Faith, particularly in some of Alexander’s corkscrew passages, searing wails, atonal cries and barreling velocity. The most obvious illustration of Coltrane’s towering influence on the disc is the 13-mintue closer, “Second Impression,” a genuflecting homage to Trane’s “Impressions.”

But Alexander jumps the furthest from his usual template on the probing “Magyar,” a silhouetting duet with Weiss’ haunting arco bass lines, and on “Frenzy” as his saxophone lines dart across the terrain, marked by rumbling bass and plowing drums. Even after the rhythm section establishes a hard-swinging forward momentum, a sense of devilish agitation prevails. Then there’s the glowing “Mars,” a slow-moving piece that ebbs and flows with the spiritualized tension and release of a Baptist minister.

The best moments on Leap Of Faith occur on the ballads. Alexander’s “Big Richard” is simply a thing of modern jazz beauty as he unravels a luxurious melody across Blake’s subtle brushstrokes and Weiss’ sauntering bass counterpoint. Alexander also stuns on the reflective “Corazon Perdido,” during which he plays brief antiphonic interjections on piano alongside a billowing melody atop Blake’s evocative tom work.