If the titles of this sextet’s recent discs for Sharp Nine, The Lineup and Return of the Lineup, suggested that the group was in a creative rut, fans can rest assured that this first effort on their new label isn’t a desperate flailing around for fresh frontiers. Kinship between the group’s sound here and Return is as close as the cover art. Once again we get eight tracks, and again only one title is a recognizable cover. Sometimes you jump ship just for the sake of sticking to your guns.
Seven compositions originate within the band, from the same lineup: trumpeter Jim Rotondi, pianist David Hazeltine, trombonist Steve Davis and tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander. For the most part, bassist John Webber and drummer Joe Farnsworth are as much in the background in the group’s arrangements as they are on the compositional side, underscoring a group ecology that’s as settled and constant as its personnel.
Listeners will no doubt have their favorites among the composer-arrangers and soloists. Sandwiched between the fiery Alexander and the brilliant Hazeltine, solos by Davis come off relatively bland in the standard “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered” and Hazeltine’s “Petite Ange.” Yet Davis sparkles on his own “Spirit Waltz” as the melody drifts eastward from Iberia, and his beautifully arranged “So Soon,” reminiscent of the Jazz Messengers’ “Blues March,” is a rousing closer where all the frontliners—and Farnsworth—are in top form.
Rotondi is an incendiary soloist on the uptempo pieces, and his tribute to Freddie Hubbard, “Voice,” is a welcome oasis of calm. “Voice” edges out the herky-jerky “Blues for Jose” as the most satisfying of Hazeltine’s originals, and Alexander’s title tune adheres righteously to the Blue Note template.