As anyone who frequents jazz clubs will attest, there are nights that live on in memory for years after the last note fades. Aside from basic details easily recalled (personnel, tunes, arrangements, etc.), what really matters is the way the music made us feel. On these rare occasions, the sounds were so potent that, for a time, nothing else mattered and all worldly concerns yielded to the happenings on stage. In search of another incredible experience, we keep coming back to the clubs, even at the risk of sitting through a slew of uninspired performances.
Minus the intimate atmosphere and the libations, One For All’sLive At Smoke, Volume 1places the listener in the thick of an extraordinary night of music. Throughout the recording, the sheer blowing power of the cooperative sextet is staggering, and different kinds of material clothed in imaginative arrangements keep things from becoming one-dimensional. During the opening cut, Eric Alexander’s up-tempo, hard bop fanfare, “The Second Milestone,” the tenor saxophonist seizes the moment, spinning out chorus after chorus of perfectly realized ideas, reaching for (and attaining) climaxes while maintaining a coherent narrative flow. The ringing, percussive chords of pianist David Hazeltine both support and confront Alexander, while bassist Peter Washington and drummer Joe Farnsworth unroll a forward thrust that is agile as well as relentless.
The band catches its breath on Hazeltine’s wily arrangement of the 1970s pop classic “Betcha By Golly Wow.” Integrating jazz-oriented devices without tarnishing the tune’s romantic melody (played by Jim Rotondi’s flugelhorn), he transmutes the tune into a vehicle for improvisation. After suggesting new directions by effortlessly playing back variations of phrases by Alexander, Rotondi and trombonist Steve Davis, Hazeltine’s solo combines playfulness and exploration. He begins sparingly, letting the bass and drums carry the music while offering a singsong ascending pattern, then integrates skipping sixteenth note runs, snatches of the original melody, as well strutting, hard-edged chords into an accomplished yet unsettled concoction.
Rotondi’s buoyant “Too Soon To Tell” puts the band right back in the fast lane. While the composer leads the charge with a solo that burns brightly and never wavers, Farnsworth is the perfect foot soldier, propelling the whole band by using a combination of steady ride cymbal rhythms and snapping snare drum accents. Amidst Washington’s steadfast walking, the drummer’s three and four stroke patterns briefly shift the ground beneath Hazeltine’s solo without ever breaking the band’s momentum.
A brisk shuffle with martial overtones, Davis’ “The Lonely Ones” combines bold chords, a brief Latin interlude, and suave, straight-ahead jazz sections. The least loquacious of the band’s soloists, the trombonist patiently works through the composition’s thorny structure, playing as if unaffected by the transitions going on around him.
Personnel: Eric Alexander--tenor sax; Jim Rotondi--trumpet, flugelhorn; Steve Davis--trombone; David Hazeltine--piano; Peter Washington--bass; Joe Farnsworth--drums.