Eric Alexander & Harold Mabern Quartet Recommended Soundboard Image

When: Thu., June 27, 8 & 10 p.m., Fri., June 28, 8 & 10 p.m., Sat., June 29, 8 & 10 p.m. and Sun., June 30, 4, 8 & 10 p.m. 2013

Tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander and his mentor and colleague, veteran pianist Harold Mabern, carry the torch of soul-streaked hard bop like few other living jazzmen, but on their latest album together, Alexander’s Touching (HighNote), they step away from that sound a bit. The record consists exclusively of ballads—a time-tested gambit in the jazz world—but the transparent arrangements and the weightlessness of the playing (which extends to drummer Joe Farnsworth and bassist John Webber) smooth over some of the grit I expect from these guys. On a lovely version of Coltrane’s “Central Park West,” they move in graceful slow motion, but their treatment of the Chi-Lites hit “Oh Girl” feels awfully lite. I don’t expect that vibe to encroach much on this weekend’s concerts, though: on the new Live at Smalls (Smalls Live), where he’s backed by Webber and Farnsworth, Mabern kills it—he draws on his Memphis roots in songs such as Fats Domino’s “I’m Walking” and Wes Montgomery’s “Road Song,” driving the music with tough funkiness and soloing with dead-on concision. For these shows the rhythm section will be bassist Dennis Carroll and drummer George Fludas. —Peter Margasak

Price: $20, $35 VIP

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