Gig review: Eric Alexander Quartet, The Jazz Bar

Harold Mabern's piano-playing acts as the foundation to the show

Harold Mabern's piano-playing acts as the foundation to the show

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THIS evening, countless pints of Tennent’s are no doubt being consumed all across the city, but chances are there’s only one man making the act look this cool.

Eric Alexander Quartet

The Jazz Bar

Star rating: * * * *

With his huge hands dwarfing the pint glass they’re clutching, Harold Mabern stands chatting amiably at the bar, moments before taking to the stage, staking a strong claim for being the hippest cat in town.

During the course of his distinguished career, he’s starred alongside legends like Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins and Sarah Vaughan but while he might be one of the greatest jazz pianists alive, tonight, Mabern plays sideman to his former pupil, Eric Alexander. It’s almost 15 years since the acclaimed saxophonist last appeared in the Capital, making this short, two-gig stint in Edinburgh a genuine treat for the appreciative Jazz Bar audience.

Between them, the two luminaries of Jazz treat us to a number of hard bop tunes, including a riotous version of Mabern’s own composition Too Late Fall Back Baby. Throughout, his piano-
playing acts as the foundation to it all, an almost constant, unerring backing, allowing Alexander to take centre stage and let loose with his lips, belting out one wailing sax line after another, never less than faultless.

Completing the quartet are the dapper John Webber on double bass and celebrated drummer Joe Farnsworth (another student of Mabern’s at William Paterson University) whose epic solo during In The Still Of The Night involves a variety of deliriously dextrous switches between drum sticks and brushes. Combined with Alexander’s own virtuoso efforts on tenor sax, the rendition of the Cole Porter classic stands out as the evening’s highlight.

It’s even longer since Mabern last visited Auld Reekie (25 years to be exact) and the crowd is clearly delighted to be able to witness someone so unbelievably good – so much so in fact, that at one point Alexander leaves the stage, heads for the bar, orders a drink and then leans there sipping it, revelling in his bandmate’s playing, full of admiration for the skill on show. He’s not the only one.

Keith Smith