"[a] tenor saxophonist to watch out for..." -
from tenor saxophonist Alex Hoffman and his ensemble of
outstanding New York musicians should warm the hearts of Bebop
and Jazz lovers on many levels. First, there are the varied and
appealing Jazz compositions of Alex Hoffman, skillfully orchestrated
and performed by rhythm section and up to six horns. Second,
there are top-
displays a Rollins influence, as well as the other excellent soloists
featured here (not documented on the album or album notes).
Finally, the recording has a desirable clarity and natural live group
sound to it. Kudos to Hoffman and the outstanding crew involved in
this excellent musical project.
Tenor saxophonist Alex Hoffman’s debut record as a leader should do much to raise the young tenor saxophonist’s stock, as it shows him to be an excellent player and budding
writer with plenty to say. Already an accomplished musician, Hoffman shows his high potential as a soloist on Dark Lights. Hoffman has a husky, full-
Alex Hoffman’s tenor saxophone enters Dark Lights’ opening track, “Night Jaunt”, with a clarion, optimistic announcement that comes from an earlier, more trusting milieu than our own. The little big band around him sounds so suave we might be listening to a Tadd Dameron octet recording from the ‘50s. But the sound is too good. And the liner notes say that Hoffman came to New York to go to college only six years ago. Dark Lights is Hoffman’s debut as a leader and just his third time on record. It is unusual. Hoffman is a young player deeply rooted in the original language of bop. It is ambitious. All the tunes are Hoffman originals arranged for nonet. It is impressive. Hoffman has internalized much musical history and speaks bop fluently, with passion and new millennium inflections. He is an exciting soloist because he always sounds like he is being pushed hard from within by his need to communicate. His tunes are complete concepts and his charts are clean, with precisely intersecting parts and graceful movements. The only disappointment is that Hoffman does not fully exploit the resources of the nonet format. The additional horns are used mostly for weight in the theme statements. Essentially only three players solo: Hoffman, trumpeter Dwayne Clemons and pianist Sacha Perry. Those solos are the raison d’être for Dark Lights. Hoffman continuously unleashes improvisations like the one on “Evil Eye”: extended, detailed, complex, finished statements. Clemons is a revelation. His trumpet sound is tart and confrontational and every solo is a tipping, teetering adventure that resolves in victorious declamations. On “Celeste’s Swing” and “Fragment”, he could be a respected peer of Howard McGhee and Kenny Dorham, transported to our time. As for Perry, drawing on forebears like Monk and Frank Hewitt, he sounds only like himself. Usually he careens ambiguously sideways, deadpan and ironic, like on “Hurricane Sacha”. Sometimes, like on “Evil Eye”, he spurts and lurches and uncovers chiming internal melodies.