Having reviewed last month Optimism, the second Sharp Nine release by One for All, the New York–based co–op sextet patterned after Art Blakey’s celebrated Jazz Messengers, we must beg your indulgence as we backtrack a year to appraise its debut session, recorded in February ’97 by the eminent Rudy Van Gelder (whose apparently escalating faith in greater reverb is somewhat misplaced). Personnel is unchanged, as is the group’s impassioned point of view. In spite of the rather self–effacing title, it’s hardly too soon to tell you, the reader and potential listener, that these are six of the most accomplished and emphatic young neo–boppers in the Big Apple or anywhere else. If the Messengers were still around, this is probably quite close to what they’d sound like. While it may be hard to imagine anyone completely filling Blakey’s enormous shoes, Farnsworth has more than a few Bu–like drum rolls up his sleeve and kicks the group along in splendid fashion. Washington, pianist Tommy Flanagan’s bassist of choice, and Hazeltine complete a purposeful and close–knit rhythm section that never lets the music drag or falter. The front–liners, meanwhile, blend well together (several of the voicings are truly enchanting), and each one is an intrepid soloist as well — Rotondi the fiery triple–tonguing aggressor, Davis the Fuller–style acrobat, Alexander the muscular clean–up batter in the volcanic image of his main man, George Coleman. Like many of Blakey’s sidemen, these guys double as composer/arrangers, and fare well in that department too. Rotondi contributed the buoyant Messengers–like opener, “Too Soon to Tell” and the flag–waving “Stranger Than Fiction.” Alexander wrote the minor–key “Blues for All,” Davis the modal waltz “Visionary” and Hazeltine the up–tempo closer, “Captain’s Song.” Hazeltine set “Alfie” to a brisk Latin beat and scored “Betcha By Golly Wow,” while Alexander arranged his earnest ballad feature, Sammy Cahn’s “Dedicated to You.” A superb collaborative effort that is easily recommended to partisans
Track listing: Too Soon to Tell; Alfie; Stranger Than Fiction; Dedicated to You; Blues for All; Betcha By Golly Wow; Visionary; Captain’s Song (60:00).
Eric Alexander, tenor saxophone; Jim Rotondi, trumpet, flugelhorn; Steve Davis, trombone; David Hazeltine, piano; Peter Washington, bass; Joe Farnsworth, drums.