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Confidence. It's a quality too often overlooked, but one that is nonetheless essential in Jazz, as it enables a musician - or a group - to take chances, to go all-out and run the race at top speed without any fear of stumbling or falling flat on one's face. You can hear that confidence in Miles Davis's celebrated quintets from the '50s and '60s, in pianist Oscar Peterson's trios, in the several incarnations of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, in the groundbreaking interplay between Bird and Diz, and in so many other groups who've played together long enough to establish the rapport that leads inevitably to self-assurance. On Optimism, its second release for Sharp Nine Records, the New York-based sextet One for All manifests an easygoing confidence that seems to grow stronger with each refreshing bar or phrase. Although they never abandon for a moment their bop-based roots, these gentlemen are risk-takers of the old school, confronting the music on its own terms and letting the chips fall as they may. There are those, of course, who may argue that "they do nothing new" - that is, they use the same language that boppers have been speaking for more than half a century - and that assertion is certainly valid. One for All doesn't pretend to be anything more or less than a swinging, straight-ahead Jazz sextet. It doesn't need to. Nor does it need to apologize for the music it presents, which is exactly as advertised. Truth is, these are six of the most capable young musicians in the Big Apple or anywhere else. While there's no gainsaying their influences, they have developed bold and engaging voices of their own, voices that are worth hearing and appreciating. The front line of Alexander, Rotondi and Davis is about as good as they come these days, while the rhythm section is right on the money with Washington and Farnsworth keeping perfect time and Hazeltine ably directing traffic behind each solo. Alexander, whose brawny, full-throated tenor commands one's attention, wrote two of the five breezy originals ("Straight Up," "All for One"), Davis, Hazeltine and Rotondi one each ("Optimism," "Pearl's," "The Prevaricator," respectively). They are amplified by three standards and Michael Jackson's "Stranger in Moscow." The ballad "These Foolish Things" is especially noteworthy, not only because it closes the session but because One for All steps quietly aside and lets someone else blow, in this case drummer Farnsworth's brother, baritone saxophonist James Farnsworth, who passed away February 7, 1998, age 33. Joe Farnsworth says his brother was quite a guy; what we can report is that he was quite a player, with a deep reservoir of cogent ideas and an airy tone reminiscent of Swedish master Lars Gullin (the highest praise we can bestow on anyone who plays baritone). Rotondi was on that 1988 date too along with Joe on drums, Peter Mihelich on piano and Dwayne Burno on bass. A tender way to wrap up another impressive session by a talented sextet that seems to be doing everything right.
As a songwriter and vocalist, I love jazz for the experience of being in the center of intense creativity. It is the most potent form of music for keeping the artist and the audience in the 'now. Being in the moment is essential for humans, and we need help in learning how to do that. As a songwriter, I need the depth of musicality that jazz voicings can give my stories. My songs seem light and whimsical, but the message is not.
I met my main collaborator, Mark Fitzgibbon, at one of his gigs. I needed to do my first original album, and his playing was masterful, robust, and beautiful. At the time, I didn't realize how suited we were as a team. We're onto our 4rth album together.
My advice to new listeners is to listen to a really clear and simple version of a song so you can then hear what the musicians are doing and enjoy their creativity and musicality. Also, you have to see jazz live to appreciate it fully. You'll never feel it the same way listening to a CD or online. You need the vibration to go through your body to really get it!
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