Firetet is the debut for Chicago-based trumpeter/composer/educator Constantine Alexander who leads his own quintet through seven blazing originals. Although this is the first for the Greek American, he keeps a very busy slate in the Windy City, playing with Roy McGrath’s Menjunje, Marques Carroll’s Trumpet Summit, and the Chicago Blackhawks. His resume is studded with A-list players he has performed and collaborated with. The concept of ‘fire’ in the title speaks to the intense hard bop on the album, his tribute to Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers and trumpeters past and present such as Clifford Brown, Nicholas Payton, and Sean Jones. Roy McGrath is on tenor, Julius Tucker on piano, Greg Essig on drums, and Ben Dillinger on bass in this classic quintet configuration.
The album kicks off explosively with “The Show” featuring the leader taking the first soaring turn to steady, authoritative comping from the rhythm section. McGrath follows, just shy of the three-minute mark, blowing flowing, rapid clusters to the hard driving tempo. Tucker takes his turn accordingly, swinging hard – the quintet clearly emulating the sound of Blakey’s early Jazz Messengers even with the drum breaks on the eights to close it out. “IDKY” eases into a mid-tempo groove with an infectious theme expressed in order by bassist Dillinger, Alexander, McGrath, and Tucker, all of whom carefully build imaginative solos. The Latin-tinged “Fire” follows these two 4/4 tunes, Alexander displaying his clear, robust tone again playing vigorously. McGrath, as he consistently does, cools it down just a bit before launching into lines that are just as intense. The unison passages impress as well.
“Waltzin’ Long” is a upbeat ¾ time unrelenting soaring affair with Alexander at stratospheric levels and Tucker bouncing joyously while “Frequent Flyer” is akin to hot burning hard bop of the opener. The quintet finally cruise into ballad mode with the gorgeous “Forever and Always,” dripping with tender, poignant extended phrases in contrast to the choppy, rapid bop solos that characterized the preceding. Reserving the best for the closer, “Deez” is a contrafact of John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps.” Beginning with Tucker’s playful and ethereal piano melody, one is not sure where this one is headed as it bears no resemblance to the hard bop style that marked the first five tracks. Dillinger steps in, building momentum that takes on searing proportions upon the entry of the two horns. From here, buckle up as the quintet fires on all cylinders, leaving space for extensive drum solo from Essig along the way.
This is music that clearly evokes the sounds of emerging hard bop in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, proving that Alexander clearly is a student of the tradition. To his credit he debuts with totally original compositions, confidently leads his band, and his inspired playing puts him clearly on the ‘to be watched’ list of today’s trumpeters.
- Jim Hynes
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