Eric Alexander shows off his great tenor playing on one of his early recordings. He has a grand tone and his ideas flow in a wonderfully smooth fashion. His early influences were Sonny Stitt, Dexter Gordon and George Coleman. At this period of time in Alexander’s career I hear a style similar to Dexter Gordon. Strong playing, rapid runs and clean, precise solos that build in intensity - these are tributes that made up hard bop and Alexander epitomizes this style of play.
The title track kicks off the recording in high energy fashion sounding as a big band finale with full crescendo drum rolls and cymbals swelling, riding on rapid saxophone runs and transitioning to a mid tempo up beat melody with the horns swinging in funky harmony. Harold Mabern takes flight with intricate runs - delicate, finely woven, tasteful, dynamic and adding depth with off sounding jumpy chords. The song, written by Alexander and Rotondi "Mode For Mabes" has the horns blending, harmonizing and stepping out from each other to compliment and enhance the melodic free for all.
Of the eight tracks on Mode For Mabes the highlights for me are the tunes that swing hard. Including the aforementioned title track, this includes "Eric The Red", composed by Steve Davis. A swinging number with a soulful feel and a little funk that makes this an exciting tune. "Love Thy Neighbor" by Revel and Gordon, another of the swinging tunes that find all the members of the band feeding off each other and playing in excellent form. "Stay Straight" by Alexander and Rotondi finds the band in swing groove again and playing powerfully.
There is the blues of "Sugar Ray" by Phineas Newborn Jr. There are the ballads where the playing is pretty, "Stairway to the Stars" by Maineck, Parish, Signorelli and "For Heavens Sake" by Myers, Bretton and Edwards featuring Alexander and the front line playing fine stylized lines with vibrato and sustain, oozing with romantic overtones.
The closer "Naima" by John Coltrane is played with fire and passion, a song you just don’t want to end. At slightly over 11 minutes in length it seems like it’s just starting to sizzle when the band plays their last downbeat. The rhythm section is at their peak on this tune, driven by the excellent drumming of George Fludas. Mode For Mabes is Alexander and Mabern at their best.