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One for All: Big George

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One for All: Big George
Smoke Sessions Records, based out of NYC's Smoke Jazz Club, has a fascinating recording model: artists play a few nights at the club, take a day off, and then go into a studio such as the famous Sear Sound to record their repertoire for release. They been putting out some excellent material, the latest of which is the first album in seven years from the sextet One for All. The title, Big George, reveals what sets this one apart from the group's sixteen prior albums: The guest appearance on three tracks by hard-bop tenor saxophonist George Coleman. Coleman will be well-known to fans of classic jazz, having been featured on recordings by Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, Max Roach, and more. Given the quality of the musicians in One for All—tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander, trumpeter Jim Rotondi, trombonist Steve Davis, pianist David Hazeltine, bassist John Webber and drummer Joe Farnsworth—Coleman is not missed on the other tracks, but it is fun to hear the NEA Jazz Master play some vital solos with the group to whom he has been a mentor.

This review is of the album in its limited-edition 6-track vinyl format, pressed by MPO in France. CD and streaming releases add 3 bonus tracks, but the old-school LP has a natural symmetry, with the three One for All-only tunes on Side One and the three with Coleman on Side Two. The whole thing kicks off with Alexander's "Chainsaw," based around a "So What"-like two chord vamp played by the horns over a left-hand piano figure. Both the composer and Rotondi deliver some hot solos, and Farnsworth smoothly shifts from a funky beat to straight-ahead swing halfway through. It is a corker that brings to mind mid-1960's Blue Note Records classics in the best way. It is followed by the bossa-flavored, but upbeat, "In the Land" by pianist Hazeltine, followed by Davis' "Edgerly." The latter track is another highlight, based around a descending/ascending four-chord riff with the horns providing the lead line over a syncopated beat. The composer's trombone solo is great, if all too brief; one can imagine that this tune would really take off at a gig where the band had more time to stretch out.

Side Two brings Coleman into the spotlight, beginning with another original, Rotondi's "Oscar Winner," so-named because he felt it sounded like something the Oscar Peterson Trio might have played. He is not wrong: It is exactly the kind of dapper blues that Peterson's band performed so impeccably. Coleman is featured on a long solo that feels oddly questioning and episodic on top of the band's elegant swing. Much better is his tender and lyrical playing on the standard "My Foolish Heart," where One for All's horn trio ably support him with harmonized commentary. Best of all is the finale, Hank Mobley's "This I Dig of You," first heard on his 1960 classic album Soul Station (Blue Note). Coleman's solo is followed by Hazeltine's and some fun and loose horn interjections over impressive stick-work by Farnsworth that ends the session on a high note.

The recorded sound is excellent throughout, warm but detailed, and it is a special pleasure to read the liner notes by AAJ's own C. Andrew Hovan in the big 12" format. Of the digital bonus tracks, "Leemo," is specially recommended, a loping groover with typically excellent solos by the horn players.

Track Listing

Chainsaw; In the Lead; Edgerly; Oscar Winner (feat. George Coleman); My Foolish Heart (feat. George Coleman); This I Dig of You (feat. George Coleman).

Personnel

One for All
band / ensemble / orchestra
Jim Rotondi
trumpet
Eric Alexander
saxophone, tenor
Steve Davis
trombone
John Webber
bass, acoustic
George Coleman
saxophone, tenor

Album information

Title: Big George | Year Released: 2024 | Record Label: Smoke Sessions Records


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