One For All is back with their 16th album and first release in five years with “The Third Decade” that signals the remarkable durability of this stalwart group. One For All's sound captures the essence of some of the classic combos in jazz – notably Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers - with the rich and sonorous front line of tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander, trumpet and flugelhorn player Jim Rotondi and trombonist Steve Davis. This impeccable lineup is augmented with the fine rhythm section comprised of David Hazeltine playing piano, John Webber at the bass and Joe Farnsworth at the drums. Indeed, the group took their name from the title of Art Blakey's last studio album – upon which Steve Davis was a member of the group.
As the title implies, this sextet is commencing its third decade recording together. All of the band members appeared on the initial 1997 release on Sharp Nine Records “Too Soon to Tell” with the exception of bassist John Webber, who has nevertheless played upon every release since 2006. Alexander, Rotondi, Davis and Hazeltine (and Farnsworth to a lesser extent) are also prolific recording artists in their own right, having issued at least 75 albums individually. These musicians seamlessly blend into a signature voice that has attracted jazz listeners for many years. Each member of the group contributes original compositions that make up the program. The music is straight ahead post-bop abounding with solid musicianship, crackling ideas and tight interplay.
The relaxed gait of Davis's “Easy” commences the show with the composer's soulfully burnished trombone sound. Rotondi's trumpet follows with a softly swinging solo that develops into a flurry of concise notes. Ever the impressive tenor man, Alexander lays it on thick from the start of his turn with a dexterity that has always amazed us. He's followed by Hazeltine who has assimilated so many different influences that one hears Wynton Kelly, Cedar Walton and his own unique touch at the keys in a few bars. All the while Webber's bass keeps a crisp and steady pace and Farnsworth sets the beat with perfect embellishment.
Hazeltine's “Buddy” is a nod to pianist and vibraphonist Buddy Montgomery. Webber and Farnsworth establish a cooking beat over which Rotondi romps, Alexander smokes and Davis punches out a beauty before Hazeltine leans into the tempo with sailing single note lines culminating with a chordal vamp bringing the horns back into the fold. The lone non-original in the program, Rodgers and Hart's “It's Easy to Remember” is taken at mid-tempo with brisk solos from all but one, as Farnsworth is content with using sticks and cymbals to spur the soloists.
Davis's “Daylight” comes on with an attractive minor key bossa beat. Rotondi solos with the urgency of a Freddie Hubbard while Alexander plunders the soft school of music with his vibrant notes. It's a cooking affair indeed and just wait until you hear Webber break into double-time amidst Alexander's solo. Farnsworth is boiling behind Davis's trombone and one can hear shades of Kenny Barron as Hazeltine steps into this intensely rhythmic affair.
References to Alexander's strong tenor voice can be misleading, as he is also a consummate ballad player as evidenced by his “Gentle Ballads” series of recordings on the Japanese Venus label. Here this softer side is displayed upon Alexander's composition “Ghost Ride” that moves with restrained passion with the added tonal colorations of Dave Wakefield's french horn on this track. Then it's back to cooking for Rotondi's tribute to the great trombonist Curtis Fuller, “For Curtis”. This number is typical of Rotondi's composing with a plaintive, soulful refrain. Alexander walks in and wastes no time establishing a deep groove, playing in different registers, moving along the scales with astounding fluidity and creating thoroughly engrossing music. Davis enters with a brief reference to “Blue Train” in another captivating solo, reminding one that this classic John Coltrane album had a three horn front line (Coltrane, Lee Morgan and Curtis Fuller), the spirit of which has long been an essence of One For All's music.
Rotondi is at the flugelhorn for his composition “Ruth” with a soulful melody and swinging beat and bassist Webber contributes “Babataytay” that strikes an in-the-pocket boogaloo groove. Hazeltine's “K-Ray” is a dedication to the late drummer Killer Ray Appleton and affords opportunity for Farnsworth to deliver a resourceful solo. Alexander's “Frenzy” is highlighted by a thrilling section with the tenorman accompanied solely by Farnsworth's ardent drumset work. The album goes out with a walking beat on Farnsworth's “Hey Stevie-D” that is pure feel-good blues. As a closer the number sums it up: Alexander's irrepressible fire and resourceful technique; Davis's state-of-the-art trombone sound that has it all – tradition, chops, soul, grit; Rotondi's clean trumpet sound and cocky slurs built around something substantial to say; and the remarkable cohesion of the rhythm section.
At 66 minutes, there is plenty of music to behold on “The Third Decade”. The session was recorded at Sear Sound with a custom console at 96KHz/24 bits mixed to 1/2” analog tape with a Studer mastering deck. David Hazeltine remarks that one of the nice aspects of the Smoke Sessions release is the group had the opportunity to play their compositions live at Smoke Jazz & Supper Club in NYC before going into the studio. This is music from artists who never drop the ball or get caught-up in repetitiousness and get right down to the business of proving the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. And so, as One For All demonstratively move into their third decade with this release, one can only look forward to their continued meetings.
Personnel: Jim Rotondi: trumpet & flugelhorn; Eric Alexander: tenor saxophone; Steve Davis: trombone; David Hazeltine: piano; John Webber: bass; Joe Farnsworth: drums.
Tracks: Easy; Buddy's; It's Easy to Remember; Daylight; Ghost Ride; For Curtis; Ruth; Babataytay; K-Ray; Frenzy; Hey, Stevie-D.
Recorded October 20, 2015