The beauty of the One Take concept lies in its simplicity. Take a group of jazz musicians at the very top of their game, place them in a studio for three hours, let them loose, and roll tape. No rehearsals, no overdubs, no edits, and just one take of each tune they tackle. The brainchild of acclaimed Toronto-based musician, producer and label head Peter Cardinali, One Take has blossomed into a full-fledged series of recordings, one that has received a uniformly positive international reaction.
Look for more kudos to come with the November 9 release of One Take: Volume 4, an album that certainly does the concept proud. It features four heavyweight musical talents, one American, three Canadian. Joining Philadelphia raised organ virtuoso Joey DeFrancesco are pianist Robi Botos, saxophonist Phil Dwyer, and drummer Vito Rezza.
DeFrancesco needs little introduction to the jazz lover. At 17, he signed with Columbia Records and toured in Miles Davis’ band. He has since recorded and toured with the likes of John McLaughlin, George Benson, John Scofield and David Sanborn, as well as recording and touring with his own trio. Joey has won countless Downbeat critics and readers polls, and is recognized as the best Hammond organ player in jazz.
Robi Botos has won numerous international music competitions as well as National Jazz Awards in Canada. He has opened for Oscar Peterson and recorded and performed with artists ranging from Chaka Khan and Molly Johnson to James Blood Ulmer and Vernon Reid. Long hailed as one of Canada’s elite horn players as well as a skilled composer and arranger, Phil Dwyer has won multiple Juno Awards (Canada’s Grammy equivalent). He has performed with everyone from Aretha Franklin and Gino Vannelli to Randy Brecker, Jim Hall, Dave Holland, and Don Thompson. Powerhouse percussionist/composer Vito Rezza has released five albums with the band he leads, 5 After 4, and has recorded with Joni Mitchell, John Lee Hooker, Michael Brecker, Guido Basso and many more.
All four players eagerly seized the opportunity for an encore appearance on the One Take series. DeFrancesco and Rezza had teamed with trumpeter Guido Basso and guitarist Lorne Lofsky for the very first One Take, back in 2003. Dwyer and Botos had shone on 2005’s One Take: Volume 2, alongside ace drummer Terri Lynne Carrington and bassist Marc Rogers. Their enthusiasm about returning to the project was captured by Vito Rezza. “I was ecstatic about getting to do another one. I said to Peter, ‘you don’t have to ask me.’ My hands are already crazy-glued to the bumper of your truck!’”
The catalyst for One Take: Volume 4 was Joey DeFrancesco. “I was in Toronto for a concert with David Sanborn, and I called Peter up and said ‘let’s do something, let’s do a One Take,’” Joey recalls. Cardinali confirms “it was that spontaneous. The band was booked less than 12 hours before the session, and I got exactly who I wanted. I always thought Robi and Joey would be great together and they were. It’s like they’re having musical conversations through the whole thing, while Phil and Vito are just astonishing.”
One Take captures the very essence of the spirit of jazz in its improvised approach. “Something spontaneous like that is why we love to play jazz. It’s all about having fun and creating something nice,” says DeFrancesco. Botos notes that “in this world we live in, a lot of stuff in music is so fake. To have an opportunity to go into the studio, choose the songs, then get to play them the way you always wanted with the people you dreamed to play them with is just great. These two One Take albums are definitely in my top moments in music ever.” Rezza agrees, saying “this is the ultimate experience for any contemporary musician, to share those moments as if it is a picnic with three other wonderful human beings.”
This is the real deal, raw and untouched. These musical gems are mined direct from the hearts and minds of some of the best jazz players of this generation. They walk a musical tightrope, without a safety net, and the results are always exhilarating. Fun is a crucial ingredient in this tasty musical recipe. “It’s the most easygoing session you’ll ever be on,” says Peter. “It is all just eat, laugh and play. No pressure.” Vito concurs, noting “we played and we laughed so hard. It was a special moment in time where we shared the wee hours of the night together. Everyone was so free.”
Choosing repertoire for the project is similarly spontaneous. Players of this experience and talent have a near-encyclopedic knowledge of the standards. ”I know a lot of songs,” says Joey. “We just picked some fun tunes to play that everyone could improvise on.” “We had a good common repertoire to work with,” adds Phil. Cardinali explains that “we go round and take turns calling out songs. The others will go, ‘great. What key is it in?,’ and off they go. They play it once and it sound s like they’ve played it all their lives!”
Joey put his comrades through their paces on Volume 4’s closing track, an exuberant take on “Broadway.” “It was about 3 a.m., and Peter goes ‘we haven’t done anything fast yet,” recalls Dwyer. “Joey kicked off ‘Broadway,’ and I went ‘man, that is fast!’ He and Vito laid down such a big pocket, even at that tempo, and you just had to fall into it.”
Leading off the album is “There Is No Greater Love,” Robi Botos’ choice. The ensemble’s sensitive reading brings fresh life to a 75 year old standard. Between these two contrasting tunes are four more classics that showcase this group’s potent combination of technical brilliance and musical empathy.
The crucial goal of the One Take series is that the method of making these records translates into a rich listening experience. Cardinali reports that “even with listeners who aren’t aware of the process, the feedback is always ‘this sounds so fresh.’ They don’t know why, but they can tell there’s a difference. This shows One Take is having the effect it is supposed to.”
Cardinali has always thought long-term with the One Take project, and his faith in the idea has been vindicated by their enthusiastic reception. “It is such a strong concept, and everybody is taken by the level of musicianship needed for this. I knew it’d be intriguing for the non- musician- to be a fly on the wall.”
The presence of such globally-known artists has helped these albums find a wide audience, exposing the talents of Canada’s top players on the process. “I’m happy to help good music get out there,” says Joey. “I’m sure we will do more in the future.” For fans of jazz in its purest form, that is excellent news.