The Heavy Hitters
Release date: January 20, 2023
Label: Cellar Music Group

The Heavy Hitters is the eponymous album from a brand-new sextet featuring some of the most established players in the jazz game. Co-leaders Mike LeDonne (piano) and Eric Alexander (tenor saxophone) present nine compositions calling upon the timelessness of old Blue Note sounds through a vibrant and formidable all-original collection. The pair is joined by Jeremy Pelt (trumpet) and Vincent Herring (alto saxophone) on frontline duties, aided by backline support from Peter Washington (bass) and Kenny Washington (drums). Coming together for their first date as an ensemble, The Heavy Hitters show their deep knowledge of the jazz tradition, to which they add a classy, life-affirming 21st Century touch.

The group is led by Mike LeDonne, New York-based bop pianist best known for his sideman work with Milt Jackson and Benny Golson as well as his huge selection of leader and co-leader records, mainly for the Savant label. His partner in crime, Eric Alexander (himself a first-rate soloist working with Harold Mabern amongst others) was his quartet-mate on a well-received series of releases on the Venus label in the mid-2000’s. The two friends came together for this, their first sextet release as leaders, featuring a set composed entirely of originals.

The Heavy Hitters project began with the express intention of emulating some of their jazz heroes, with a modern-day twist. “It’s not to look back, but to say ‘this is still relevant because this is happening right now. It’s pretty much what we’ve been doing our whole lives,” the group says about their philosophical approach to tradition. There are various nods to that history, from track titles referencing various jazz titans, to the album art, which evokes Reid Miles’ classic Blue Note graphics. “And of course, we got to record it at Rudy Van Gelder’s studio,” they add. “It’s a place we’re so lucky to still have up and running, and that is putting out the same great sound we’ve loved all these years. To us it’s a true ‘jazz’ sound.”

Many of the tunes began as homages to the jazz masters; opener “Hub,” for example, is a tribute to the trumpeter Freddie Hubbard. “As a player, he was the toughest, and his writing was at the very highest level,” begins LeDonne. “The introductory figure of “Hub” is Freddie in a nutshell.” Cracking into the tune reveals a slew of varied solo statements, from the runs of Mike LeDonne, to the thrilling squeezes of Jeremy Pelt, and a dancing solo from Jeremy Pelt. The theme of homage continues with LeDonne’s “Silverdust,” a crowd-pleasing classic. “Horace was the first to focus on bringing jazz back to the people,” LeDonne says. “He was super hip, but he based everything on having a funky dance feeling to it, with plenty of blues and soul,” a target the group hits with their studied soul inflections and deep-sitting groove. Squeezed in between the two is the charming waltz “A New Day,” a chance for Alexander to enthusiastically deploy his reams of bop language.

LeDonne continues the theme of tributes with a hat-tip to his friend, the great Cedar Walton, who bonded with LeDonne having also shared the sideman duties for the Milt Jackson Quartet. “Cedar Land” nods to Walton in more than just the title. LeDonne adapted the chords from Walton’s standard “Holy Land,” with LeDonne playing a starring role. LeDonne’s compositional contributions conclude with “Un Dia Es Un Dia,” (roughly translated as “a day is a day”) an up-tempo Latin number in the Getz/Gilberto lineage.

Tenorist Eric Alexander contributes three tunes – “Big Richard,” dedicated to his father who died in 2017, “Chainsaw,” one long funky minor blues, and “This Is Something New.” The idea for the last tune came from a George Coleman chord progression that always cried out for a melody. “I simply put the top extension notes of each chord that he dictated to me at the top of the horns’ three-part harmony, and that became the melody,” Alexander explains. The album wraps up in joyful fashion, with the effortlessly stylish “Bluesit.”

The record is born from the close-knit relationship built by LeDonne and Alexander over a 25-year period. “I consider Mike a close confidant,” Alexander concludes—this record is the sound of personal and musical confidants working in tandem.

BEBOP SPOKEN HERE
LANCE LIDDLE
“..the real deal is in the players themselves.” Read the review here.

DEE DEE MCNEIL
MUSICAL MEMOIRS
"Together, these two ‘Heavy Hitters’ offer us a smokin’ hot production featuring five other heavy-hitters and a product plush with crème de la crème of both musicianship and original compositions." Read the review here.

MIKE HOBART
FINANCIAL TIMES
“The muscular, no-frills modernism of The Heavy Hitters sextet celebrates the tight themes, strong solos and joyous beats of the Jazz Messengers tradition.” Read the review here.

TOM HENRY
TOLEDO BLADE
”This newly formed jazz supergroup is off to a great start with a debut album that brings a swinging, modern sound in a free-wheelin’ instrumental format.” Read the review here.

PHIL FREEMAN
STEREOGUM
"Pianist Mike LeDonne and tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander have assembled a killer new band that more than lives up to its name." Read the review here.

ADAM FEIBEL
JAZZFM.91
Album announcement here.

PATRICK DALLONGEVILLE
PARIS-MOVE
Read the 4-star review in French here.

TURGAY YALCIN
DARK BLUE NOTES
Article in Turkish here.

JIM HYNES
MAKING A SCENE
"The strong chemistry between LeDonne and Alexander, 25 years in the making, is on vivid display." Read the review here.

BURAK SULUNBAZ
DARK BLUE NOTES
“An up-tempo mainstream jazz album with unchanged chemistry with non-jazz genres.” Read the review here.

RUSSELL TRUNK
EXCLUSIVE MAGAZINE
Album announcement here.

ALEX HENDERSON
NEW YORK CITY JAZZ RECORD
"..LeDonne and colleagues are clearly enjoying themselves on this solid celebration of ‘60s post-bop." Read the review in the February 2023 issue here.

TROY DOSTERT
ALL ABOUT JAZZ
All in all, this is a satisfying release that extracts a lot of fine contributions from musicians who are indeed among the "heavy hitters" of their generation. Fans of classic jazz will very much appreciate the spirit and dedication on display here.” Review here.

NIC JONES
JAZZ JOURNAL
"The rhythm section is equal to every demand and alert to every nuance, but then the work of such sincere professionals is never going to be otherwise." Read the review here.

JACK BOWERS
ALL ABOUT JAZZ
"The Heavy Hitters comprise a stalwart team whose skillfulness and consistency are hard to beat.." 4-star review here.

MIKE JURKOVIC
ALL ABOUT JAZZ
..these guys are here for one reason only—to bring the jams and the grooves, and bring them with as much punch as possible.” Read the review here.

GEORGE HARRIS
JAZZ WEEKLY
"Here’s an album that has truth in advertising." Read the review here.

EDDIE MYER
JAZZWISE
“While there’s certainly a starry cast of musicians aboard who are thoroughly at home in the tradition, this is a far more dynamic project.” Read the Editor's Choice, 4-star review in the April 2023 issue.

JOE LANG
NEW JERSEY JAZZ SOCIETY
“When you happen upon a cohesive crew filled with outstanding soloists having a good time playing together, the resulting sounds, as they are here, are filled with excitement and ingenuity."

SCOTT YANOW
DOWNBEAT
"Suffice it to say that The Heavy Hitters lives up to its potential.." Read the 4.5 star review in the March 2023 issue of DownBeat Magazine.

MICHAEL ROBERTS
JAZZIZ
"Connections between the musicians are deeply rooted.." Read the review here.

CARLOS FERNANDEZ PACIN
JAZZ CAFÉ FM
Read the album announcement in Spanish here.

MATT GREENBLATT
THE JERSEY SOUND
“Using bebop as but a base, they lunge through atmospheric flights of tight ensemble playing and fluid soloing to create one of the year’s best jazz albums.” Read the full review here

TOM HAUGEN
TAKE EFFECT REVIEWS 
Read the full review here

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