The young tenor shark Eric Alexander has an unmistakable taste for Dexter Gordon's broad-backed tone, intrepid tempi, and inventive lyricism--right down to a few specific melodic devices, including solo lines that end on a downward interval spanning four or five notes. But Alexander uses rather than abuses his heritage--for all it's come up in reviews and interviews, the Gordon influence constitutes just one row of the saxist's stylistic teeth. His command of the beat gives his playing a propulsive drive, and he wields impressive authority over his chosen idiom; listening back to his several albums (on Chicago's Delmark and Holland's Criss Cross labels), I especially like the variety of his phrasing, which ranges from foursquare storytelling to butterfly runs and yet always contributes to the forward thrust of his improvisation. No one will ever mistake Alexander for a Young Turk intent on dismantling past idioms: he plays an only slightly updated brand of the hard-bop jazz that supplanted bebop in the 1950s. But unlike so many of the wannabeboppers, who swaddle their music in pretentious twaddle about venerating past masters, Alexander offers neither justification nor apology. He just plays the bloody ferocious hell out of complex chord sequences, goes for the deep heart of ballads, and fashions the blues into a cornerstone for elegant edifices of the most ruggedly basic materials. What's more, he does it all with enough panache to make it sound unexpectedly fresh. He'll hook up with old friends on this return to Chicago (where he spent his formative years, after college and before heading for New York): bassist Dennis Carroll, drummer George Fludas, and pianist Joan Hickey. Friday, 9 PM, and Saturday, 8 PM, Green Mill, 4802 N. Broadway; 773-878-5552. NEIL TESSER
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo of Eric Alexander by Eric Futron.