As the Dayton arts support group Cityfolk prepared to wind down their jazz series for the year, they couldn’t have wished for a stronger or more accomplished unit than One For All to help them wrap things up with a bang. This gathering of New York savvy gentlemen boasts several leaders in their own right, but somehow they manage to keep this collective ensemble alive through recordings and regular gigs in New York City and Japan. Recently they’ve been able to tour beyond their home base and it was while making the trek from Denver to Chicago that they fit in this Dayton gig, albeit without the presence of trombonist Steve Davis (who was adjudicating the trombone finals for the Thelonious Monk competition).
With tenor man Eric Alexander and trumpeter Jim Rotondi on the front line, the quintet opened full throttle with “D Blues,” a no nonsense flag waver that provided an opportunity for each group member to make an introduction to the audience, which included more than its fair share of high school and college students. Up next was the band’s ‘hit tune’, if there is such a thing for jazz groups, namely pianist David Hazeltine’s arrangement of the ‘70s classic “Betcha By Golly Wow.” Through altered chords and drummer Joe Farnsworth’s hypnotic groove, the piece does provide fodder for some quality soloing, Rotondi proving to be especially melodic in his spot.
As homage to pianist Harold Mabern from one of Alexander’s early Delmark releases, “Mode For Mabes” proved to be the centerpiece of the opening set with Farnsworth setting up a pseudo bossa rhythm. Rotondi would solo with fiery Hubbard-like flourishes, bassist Peter Washington would work in some tasty double stops and a few Monk quotes, and Farnsworth would come back with a funk-inflected turn that spoke in shades of “Red Clay.” A ballad feature for Rotondi on “My Ideal” and a brisk Hazeltine romp through “Angel Eyes” would round out things before the break.
As Alexander took the mike at the start of the concluding set; he made a dedication to the late Charles Earland, a former employer of the saxophonist and a regular at Gilly’s for many years. Highlights this time around included Eric’s ballad feature on “Didn’t We,” with a taste of Gene Ammons showing up in the performance that this reviewer doesn’t recall hearing in Alexander’s work before. A new piece which will debut on an upcoming Criss Cross date, “Nemesis,” was cranked out at a vigorous tempo that must have kept everyone on their toes, although the quintet made it sound like they weren’t even working up a sweat. Alexander’s prickly tenor work made for his best solo of the evening, with Hazeltine’s crisp runs an added bonus and a series of ‘eights’ with Farnsworth leading back to the head.
In the past, some of the best jazz has emanated from those who were able to write music for specific musicians in mind. With today’s economic woes and the tendency to find solo artists working with local rhythms sections, One For All speaks eloquently for the benefits of keeping a working group together. Plus, they speak with a New York attitude and chops to burn too.