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One For All Featuring George Coleman

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"Big George" - One For All Featuring George Coleman

Jim Rotondi - Trumpet 
Eric Alexander - Tenor & Alto Saxophones 
Steve Davis - Trombone 
David Hazeltine - Piano 
John Webber - Bass 
Joe Farnsworth - Drums 
Special Guest - George Coleman - Tenor Saxophone

Called “New York’s premier hard-bop supergroup” by JazzTimes, One for All has evolved over the course of its quarter-century history from a sextet of young torchbearers to an assemblage of the music’s most revered traditionalists. Just how in-demand these six artists have become can be traced by the span of time that elapses between albums. 2016’s The Third Decade followed its predecessor by five years; seven years of that decade have now passed before the band’s long-awaited follow-up, Big George.

Big George is One for All’s 17th release and once again features the unparalleled line-up of tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander, trumpeter Jim Rotondi, trombonist Steve Davis, pianist David Hazeltine, bassist John Webber, and drummer Joe Farnsworth. This time around the group has invited a very special guest for the proceedings – tenor sax legend George Coleman. The date will also be released in a special six-track vinyl edition.

While the title of Big George is a nod to Coleman, the session is not a “tribute album” in the traditional sense. The tip of the hat is more an acknowledgment of the giants who still walk among us – a list that has grown distressingly (if inevitably) shorter over the sextet’s 27-year lifetime. Coleman is a living legend with an emphasis on the “living,” and his vital presence on three of the album’s nine tracks is less about paying homage than an opportunity to breathe fire alongside one of the greatest to ever do it.

Big George is also One for All’s second release for Smoke Sessions, a natural fit for the band given the role that Smoke Jazz Club has played in its history. One for All largely honed its sound on the stage at Augie’s, the club that formerly occupied the space now known as Smoke. The renowned club has remained a home for the band – and for Coleman, who traditionally celebrates his birthday on its stage every March.

The album’s release date came one week after Coleman celebrated his 89th birthday on March 8. The Memphis native grew up amidst a stunning group of future trailblazers, including Charles Lloyd, Hank Crawford, Booker Little and Smoke patron Saint, Harold Mabern. After serving apprenticeships with icons like Ray Charles and B.B. King, Coleman went on to play with many of jazz’ most influential names, including Max Roach, Charles Mingus, Slide Hampton, Chet Baker, Ahmad Jamal, Elvin Jones, and a notable stint in the Miles Davis Quintet.

“Everybody in the band has known [George] for some 30 years, and he has always been supportive of the One for All cast,” says Davis. “I think it was long overdue and just the perfect time to do this.” Alexander adds, “I thought it was spectacular. His appearance makes it a little different from one of our typical dates because we crafted some head arrangements in the studio around what he was doing. That is a component that hasn’t really been shown on our recordings thus far.”

That sentiment is typical of all six members of One for All, and exemplifies how they’ve maintained such a vigorous and spirited vitality for all these years. While they may champion a style in keeping with the jazz mainstream, they are no less adventurous artists, always on the search for a new challenge. Add to that the intangible chemistry that sparks on those increasingly rare occasions when the full band comes together, and the results are always special.

“There’s so much musical history with this group of musicians that it always feels good to play together,” says Davis. “There’s always going to be that great, deep feeling for the music.”

Big George kicks off with Alexander’s “Chainsaw,” its muscular call-and-response between Hazeltine and the horns evoking classics like Miles Davis’ “So What.” The title, a reference to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre that can also be sung to the melody’s two-note pattern, suggests the tune’s jagged edges and the sharp-honed solos that it conjures.

The drummer’s bossa bounce lays a softer foundation for Hazeltine’s “In the Lead,” which he wrote as a brisk vehicle for the stellar three-horn frontline. With the best seat in the house on any given night, Hazeltine is an ardent admirer of his bandmates. ““I consider that horn section to be the best currently, and certainly one of the best in history. I can’t think of three guys who played better together other than maybe Curtis Fuller, Wayne Shorter, and Freddie Hubbard.”

How do you make such an esteemed horn section even better? Add the soulful, rotund voice of George Coleman. The sax icon makes his entrance on Rotondi’s “Oscar Winner,” with its echoes of Oliver Nelson’s “Yearnin’” and the taut swing of the Oscar Peterson Trio. 

“The Nearness of You” is essayed by the core sextet at a gentle pace set by Farnsworth’s delicate brushes and Webber’s cushioning bassline, the horns weaving around one another in a gorgeous display of melodicism. Finally, Rotondi’s “Leemo” takes its cue from Lee Morgan’s groove-forward classics with a swaggering funk send-off.

As journalist C. Andrew Hovan charts in his engaging liner notes, much has changed in the world and in the music since One for All first joined forces in early 1997. One thing that can always be counted on is this band’s passion and vivacity, and the welcome that will undoubtedly greet each long-awaited reunion.

One For All