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Jazz means different things to different people, and these days the word seems to apply to everything from the canned music at more adventurous supermarkets to the dense and difficult sounds they fabricate at the avant-garde Knitting Factory in lower Manhattan. But for many of us there is nothing better or more essential than a burning hard bop quartet or quintet, launching directly from the melody to a round of forceful, blazing solos, then back to the head and out. Simple, elegant, muscular. Some D.C. fans of this straight ahead sound have grown accustomed to marking their calendars for the dates when tenor player Eric Alexander and pianist Harold Mabern come to town, and the next installment at the Twins Jazz Club is Nov. 8 and 9. Alexander works the soil first tilled by the great tenors of the ’50s and ’60s like Dexter Gordon and Booker Ervin, with a burnished, robust tone, an agile mind, and an appreciation for everything from romantic balladry to sheer blues force. Mabern, 66, helped forge the hard bop tradition on hundreds of dates and recordings with the likes of saxophonists Sonny Rollins, Gene “Jug” Ammons, and Rahsaan Roland Kirk, trumpeters Freddie Hubbard and Lee Morgan, and many others. Speaking on a cell phone while running errands around New York one day recently, Alexander, 34, says that before Mabern was a cohort, he was “one of my biggest influences. He was my professor at William Paterson College [in New Jersey] and has been my confidant, teacher, and encourager for a long time. “He is not an easy nut to crack,” Alexander continues. “He doesn’t open up to people for a very long time. I knew him for five or six years before I got a sense of where he is coming from. He is a very deep cat, musically and personally.” The latest collaboration between the two is Alexander’s “Summit Meeting,” released earlier this year on Milestone Records. The summit meeting, if you will, is between Alexander and trumpeter Nicholas Payton, another young lion who guestson the title track and three others. The tunes with Payton recall some of the great front lines of the hard bop era — the ones in Art Blakey’s JazzMessengers or Horace Silver’s groups — with the twin horns braidingaround bluesy melodies perfectly de-signed for improvisational flight. Alexander’s slamming title track and then Mabern’s swinging, textured “There but for the Grace of . . .” strike me as the two standouts on the disc. But Alexander brings up another cut when asked to name something special: “A House Is Not a Home,” one of the two Burt Bacharach compositions that Mabern arranged for the session. “It is one of those magical tunes,” says Alexander. “We didn’t intend to record it, we just figured it out then and there. Harold said, ‘Hey, we don’t have a three-quarter tune like we had in the last couple of records. I’ve got one for you.’ We worked it out and just did it one take. . . . It’s funny, sometimes you have a feeling as a musician, spending days or weeks and months on some tunes, that you burn out on them. It’s nice when they just get whipped together on the spot.” Taking pop melodies, even schmaltzy ones, and squeezing the good juice out of them was standard practice for jazz players during Mabern’s youth, back when melody was actually a sought-after quality in pop material. The cut is on the bright and light side — though Alexander races about impressively and drummer Joe Farnsworth propels things with a light but insistent touch. The other member of the undersung rhythm section on this and other Alexander-Mabern excursions is bassist John Webber. Speaking of both Webber and Farnsworth, Alexander says, “We grew up together, musically speaking. My first real gigs and first real jam sessions were with those cats. We’ve all been there together as we matured as players. In that respect, I feel very fortunate. It’s nice because it grew naturally. It’s not like we said, ‘That guy’s getting gigs, let’s get to know him.’ We were friends first, and then began playing together.” While not the most glamorous stop on D.C.’s jazz map, the Twins is a key part of the local landscape. Its former location in the residential wilderness of upper Northwest was a pleasant surprise, even on jam night when different amateurs would simultaneously man the pianos on opposite sides of the room. Now up a rickety set of stairs near the corner of 14th and U streets, N.W., the club continues to fill an important role by bringing in a mix of locals and truly great names (Chicago trumpeter Malachi Thompson and pianist John Hicks are also on the slate for November) who just are not the sort to draw $30-a-set at Blues Alley. “Harold and I have both played at the new Twins and the old Twins,” says Alexander. “I think the first gig I did at the old Twins was in ’93. They gave me a shot when I was pretty green. The old Twins was clearly more intimate and had certain homey qualities. But for the Twins, this location is superior, that’s obvious. It’s good to move up, so to speak.” Bill Kisliuk is senior editor at Legal Times.

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