As the liner notes point out, tenor saxophonist Alex Hoffman is a perfect fit for the hard-swinging, no-nonsense style of modern jazz that Smalls Records has been presenting over the past eight years. If I had heard Dark Lights without knowing anything about it, I’d have guessed it was a Smalls release, in part because of the immediately recognizable sound of Sacha Perry, who gets my vote every year as the pianist most worthy of wider recognition who records primarily for this label. Hoffman is a DC native whose tenor stylings are straight out of the hard bop era; he’s heard and digested the vocabulary of masters like Hank Mobley, Harold Land, and Tina Brooks, and uses it to tell his own stories. His solos are imaginative and engaging, as are those of the other featured soloists here, Perry and trumpeter Dwayne Clemons. The ensembles feature four other horn players, and the writing and arranging will remind hip listeners of greats like Melba Liston and Gigi Gryce. In an era when so much modern jazz is either painting by the numbers or searching for an identity, records like Dark Lights prove there are still musicians ready to deliver the goods, and labels willing to support them.