Eric Alexander and his ensemble produce a very tight knit sound reminiscent of John Coltrane, George Coleman and Joe Henderson in the late 1950s. In many respects, this album is retro in attitude. Alexander's group digs deep into the hard bop past. The playing is competent, mature, and warm and embraces themes that are nostalgic and romantic.
They open their set with the timeless "Matchmaker, Matchmaker" that sounds as if it could have been inserted into Coltrane's classic "My Favorite Things" album. Alexander remolds the familiar show tune into a classy urban portrait filled with the anonymity of subways and taxis and street life.
"Moment to Moment," a tune composed by Johnny Mercer and Henry Mancini, further lends itself to re-imagined New York past. A past that is bittersweet filled with Jack Lemmon searching for an apartment and Audrey Heyburn in dark sunglasses and long black gloves. An elegant mythical past.
"The Man from Hyde Park" is written by pianist Harold Mabern. It is a glorious tribute to Herbie Hancock of this period, before bop spilled into freer forms. Mabern's "John Neely Beautiful People" is a companion piece that is a homage to the late Chicago saxophonist.
Jim Rotondi excels on "Luna Naranja" and "The Cliffs of Asturias." He sounds very much like a young Freddie Hubbard.
Alexander's group is formidable; their voice is magisterial embracing a big rich, luxuriant sound. Occasionally, it has what Rashaan Roland Kirk used to term "bright moments." Moments that take you away from all the problems of the world and into a world of limitless beauty. While Alexander may not reach the peaks of Coltrane, Coleman or Henderson, "The Second Milestone" is beautiful within the mirrored context of time and music. Accordingly, they take few risks. This is not forward-looking music.
It is noteworthy to mention that Alexander quotes Dag Hammarskjold in his acknowledgements: "The more you listen to the voice within you, the better you will hear what is sounding outside."