As the title of his debut album on the Sharp Nine label suggests, alto saxophonist Mike DiRubbo's musical imagination resides in that space between the mainstream and the avant-garde. It's no surprise, then, to learn that he's a former student of the great Jackie McLean, who, perhaps more than anyone, brought a tough, bebop and blues-based sensibility to the "new thing" experiments of the 1960s. Like McLean, DiRubbo pursues a mostly straight-ahead style with a clear respect for the jazz tradition, but doesn't always bow allegiance to the expected post-bop gods.
DiRubbo's fine group features trombonist Steve Davis (now playing with Chick Corea's Origin), Bruce Barth on piano, Nat Reeves on bass, and Carl Allen on piano. The quintet performs four originals, including the Coltrane-inspired title tune and the infectious "Blues to Your Old Country," which DiRubbo says was inspired by Sicilian funeral marches. The standards covered here are refreshing ones that underline the leader's influences: Sahib Shihab's "Rue de la Harpe," a tune previously recorded by McLean with Dexter Gordon; and "You're A Weaver of Dreams," a ballad featured on the classic Cannonball and Coltrane album. DiRubbo even brings some unexpected originality and free-spirited blowing to his version of "Over the Rainbow."
Recorded in October 1994, when he was just 24, and unissued till now, From The Inside Out shows DiRubbo to be an exceptionally accomplished musician despite his tender years. If he's worked hard and recent years have been kind to him, he should today be among the better young alto players on the jazz scene.