Enjoying the privilege of checking out longtime Windy City trumpet and flugelhorn stalwart Constantine Alexander for the first time via his freewheeling, alternately slow-simmering and fast burning debut Firetet, it seemed natural to check out the previous accolades he brings to the party. His resume includes the likes of Ron Carter, Randy Brecker, Paquito D’Rivera and Snarky Puppy’s Robert “Sput” Searight, but as a native Chicagoan who grew up loving the town’s sports teams, Alexander had me at “he is the trumpeter for the Chicago Blackhawks.”
The 7-piece, 52-minute set is fashioned as a flights of fancy, soaring improvisation-filled and hard swinging homage to Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and trumpet legend Clifford Brown, full of soulful connections and quick-witted repartee with Alexander’s ensemble of Roy McGrath (tenor sax), Julius Tucker (piano), Greg Essig (drums) and Ben Dillinger (acoustic bass).
As spirited and Blackhawk power play exciting as the full album is – and true to its title, it sparks intensely from the get-go (“The Show”) yet also keeps us “Waltzin’ Long” (a moodier flow) and energetically invites us to soar along as a “Frequent Flyer” – the first six tracks seem like a prelude to the epic nearly 13 minute closer “Deez.” Alexander calls the slowly evolving piece “my contrafact of Coltrane’s ‘Giant Steps,’ a tune that started out as a joke during my residence at Gino’s East” that became “a tune that reminds us all not to take life to seriously.”
The piece begins with a begins with a lengthy meditative yet often dramatic piano solo before building bustling, solo-driven trumpet, sax and piano momentum leading towards the crashing crescendo of Essig’s deep, expansive and booming drum solo. With any luck and a lot of crackling grace, those of us outside Chi-town will be hearing lots more from this Firetet in the future.