Constantine Alexander Firetet
Independent release 2023
By Jeff Cebulski | ⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2
For as much as jazz continuously moves forward in stages of invention and style, it sometimes revisits the past in fresh ways. Each subgenre has had its high points, which remain targets for reinvented expression. And many musicians are just really good within an artistic context.
So, we don’t, really, mind that a movement to revive early jazz is occurring in NYC, for example, as we wait and see if a new generation can match or even improve the sounds that excited early 20th Century fans.
And hearing the Mingus Big Band re-create the quixotic bassist’s compositions is never a boring task.
And we don’t, really, bemoan yet another hard bop/post bop ensemble that emerges from yet another generation of young master wannabes. Good music is good music, right?
These thoughts came to mind as I was listening to trumpet/flugelhorn master Constantine Alexander’s new album, FIRETET. This jazz is ‘straight up,’ straight away, no holds barred, no apologizes. And while players like Marquis Hill and the late Jamie Branch have ventured in inquisitive, exploratory forms, Alexander conjures the ghosts of Clifford Brown and Freddie Hubbard to come and listen to his version of what they, and others like them, started. Yes, the music selections are formulaic, but they are never repetitive; the musicianship transcends the generic forms.
It helps that Alexander’s supporting cast—Roy McGrath on tenor sax, Julius Tucker on piano, Ben Dillinger on bass, and Greg Essig on drums—is up to the call. This ensemble certainly sounds like significant woodshedding has occurred prior to this recording, as the Firetet moves through the varying changes and often invigorated rhythms with an ease expected of mates that have years of companionship. Their efforts, produced with sonic balance by McGrath, evinces the group’s organic unity, especially on the swinging post bop opener, “The Show,” where Dillinger and Essig establish the pocket with driving interplay that bolsters Tucker and the horns, who joyously push their way forward, with McGrath—who’s on a bit of a hot streak—displaying some of his best playing.
“IDKY” slips into Horace Silver territory, a blues stroll that gives Dillinger a chance to make a solo statement and Alexander and McGrath moments to tweak conventional styles.
“Fire,” the Latinesque cut, and “Waltzin’ Long,” which begins as the expected waltz, establish Alexander and McGrath as lovely counterparts before Roy and Constantine (reaching Maynard Ferguson-inspired notes) engage with masterful solos, only to be seamlessly interrupted by a 4/4 change of pace handled adroitly by Tucker, Dillinger, and Essig, before returning to the established rhythm.
There are other moments like this to make things interesting. The closer, “Deez”—Alexander’s ‘contrafact’ of “Giant Steps”—opens with a pleasant quasi-classical solo by Tucker (who shines throughout) that ultimately picks up speed, leading to a series of “Salt Peanuts” quotes and a sprawling hard bop display, led by more of Alexander’s upper register playing and McGrath’s speed work before Essig gets his chance to shine one more time.
In the end, it’s the constant-ine excellence of Alexander that carries Firetet, his gliding and lyrical expression adorning the superb complementary work of McGrath and Tucker, while vividly rising above the accompanying excellence on every tune. Essentially, even though I have listened to music like this for many years, I found the album hard to ignore and evocative of the recordings featuring tandems like Lee Morgan and Wayne Shorter or Jim Rotundi and Eric Alexander…and their friends.
This well recorded and produced debut of a rising Chicago talent and his band demonstrates, once again, the depth of our city’s jazz clientele, with music for everyone and a glorious future ahead.
Constantine Alexander, FIRETET. Independent release, 2023.
Constantine Alexander, trumpet and flugelhorn
Roy McGrath, tenor saxophone; producer
Julius Tucker, piano
Greg Essig, drums
Ben Dillinger, bass
About Jeff Cebulski
Jeff Cebulski, who lives in Chicago, is a retired English educator (both secondary and collegiate) and longtime jazz aficionado. His career in jazz includes radio programs at two stations in southeast Wisconsin, an online show on Kennesaw State’s (GA) Owl Radio from 2007 until 2015, and review/feature writing for Chicago Jazz Magazine since 2016, including his column "Jazz With Mr. C". He has interviewed many jazz artists, including Joshua Redman, Charles Lloyd, Dave Holland, John Beasley, and Chris Brubeck, as well as several Chicago-based players. Jeff is a member of the Jazz Journalists Association. Contact Jeff at email@example.com