Working within the broad parameters of hard-swinging, harmonically sophisticated small-band styles from the 40s, 50s, and 60s, the music of the sextetOne For All
also reflects the experiences of the individual members outside of their cooperative band. An incomplete but telling list of leaders who have employed and influenced various members of the crew includes Cecil Payne, George Coleman, Art Blakey, Jackie McLean, Junior Cook, Slide Hampton, and Louis Hayes.
On The Long Haul, the band’s second release for Criss Criss (and fourth overall), they stake their claim to the tradition. The record comprises impressive material (six out of eight cuts were written by various band members) and arrangements, four primary soloists with something distinctive to say, and a rhythm section that responds to every exigency and shoots off sparks of its own. Most of all, aside from the skill and technique involved, the music possesses a fervency that is genuine: These guys love playing together and it shows.
The disc’s opening cut, “A Cry For Understanding,” composed by John Farnsworth, encompasses the band’s virtues. A slow, somber introduction convincingly executed by tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander and the rhythm section leads to all of the horns playing the theme at a brisk tempo. Alexander’s solo is a fine example of his continuing development. His full-bodied sound spreads out and takes up space without being overbearing, and he stays in absolute control while deliberately working through a variety of ideas that add up to a complete, satisfying whole. In comparison, trombonist Steve Davis’ approach is somewhat spare, skillfully playing off and interacting with pianist David Hazeltine’s chords and the snap of drummer Joe Farnsworth’s snare drum accents. During a commanding, live wire turn, trumpeter Jim Rotondi frequently phrases on top the beat and occasionally takes brief, fruitful detours. In the unenviable position of following the three horns, Hazeltine, ever mindful of Farnsworth’s and bassist Ray Dummond’s pulse, at first seems casual and then gradually hardens his touch, becoming more expansive and forceful. Backed only by Farnsworth’s brushes, Drummond completes the cycle of solos, integrating a snippet of the song “Wade In The Water,” into a smart, efficient statement.
Alexander’s rollicking tune “Stash,” the band’s first venture into the time signature of 5/4, is another of the disc’s standout cuts. It moves forward in a nice, lopsided manner, with the horns brazenly stating the melody, then giving way to a string of compact solos. First up is Alexander, who is clearly inspired by the odd meter, starting off with short, soulful phrases. When Hazeltine and Farnsworth signal a change in emphasis, he takes off in a series of sprints which ends in barrage of overblowing. Rotondi burns through the rhythmic thicket with ease, making his lines rhyme with call and response patterns. Initially taking more care than usual in placing his notes and letting the rhythm section fill in space, Davis’ solo gradually gains footing while working against the weight of Hazeltine’s stabbing chords. Over Drummond and Hazeltine’s vamp, Farnsworth slyly mixes rhythms that alternately refer to the pulse and create unrelated waves of percussive sound.