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Mike DiRubbo: Human Spirit

David A. Orthmann By

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On his second Criss Cross release, alto saxophonist Mike DiRubbo thrives on the challenges posed by a great rhythm section. Pianist David Hazeltine, bassist Peter Washington, and drummer Joe Farnsworth, most notably of the cooperative sextet One For All, have lit a fire under dozens of significant jazz recordings over the past decade. Full of inspired interplay and subtle shifts in emphasis, their concentrated swing supports and provokes the soloist.

Regardless of the material or the tempo, the momentum they generate is too decisive to be ignored. DiRubbo (as well as his front line partner, trumpeter/flugelhornist Jim Rotondi) meets the trio on equally resolute terms, carving out his own space and displaying a distinct identity on every track.

'Transfer,' DiRubbo's original composition taken at a medium-to-up tempo, opens the disc in a fine fashion. His edgy, acid-like tone cuts through everything else and ratchets up the level of excitement. Weaving his way through Hazeltine's sleight-of-hand chords, Washington's sturdy walking, and the heft of Farnsworth's snare drum accents, DiRubbo's ideas move in a logical yet unpredictable manner. Most impressive is the alto saxophonist's way of varying his rhythmic cadences so as to avoid any hint of monotony. For a time he'll swing in a traditional, bebop-like manner, then briefly take things off course a bit by jamming sixteenth note passages that land in odd places; or he'll hold a note for a couple of beats and abruptly bend the pitch.

Hank Mobley's lilting 'Bossa For Baby' serves as a vehicle for three short but persuasive solos. Blending a few long, pointed phrases into an otherwise laid-back presentation, Rotondi's flugelhorn sounds warm and inviting. DiRubbo's two choruses create suspense by juxtaposing relatively relaxed playing and terse, jolting lines. He keeps the listener guessing by restlessly moving from one mode to another, always mindful of the effect of each shift on the solo as a whole. Buoyed by Washington's sparse bass line, Hazeltine's one chorus covers a lot of ground, including an expressive pause in the middle of a handful of short locutions; an extended series of sparkling single-note passages; and a chordal segment that leads back to the theme.

In some of his best work of the set, DiRubbo's solo on 'Throwback' is full of wonderfully subtle changes in stress that are encouraged by the rhythm section. They lay down a lithe, medium tempo groove that gets denser and seems to expand as he goes along. DiRubbo's first chorus is almost blissfully melodic, and while making the transition into the second he hints that things are about to get turbulent. Still he resists the temptation to play convoluted passages in favor of staying with a more straightforward approach. While sustaining an agreeable feeling, DiRubbo builds without ever reaching for a climax or sounding overwrought.

Track Listing: 1. Transfer; 2. Moon River; 3. Human Spirit; 4. Minor March; 5. North Shore Reflections; 6. Bossa For Baby; 7. Throwback; 8. Down.

Personnel: Mike DiRubbo--alto sax; Jim Rotondi--trumpet, flugelhorn; David Hazeltine--piano; Peter Washington--bass; Joe Farnsworth--drums.

Title: Human Spirit | Year Released: 2003 | Record Label: Criss Cross

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