Michael Melito

David A. Orthmann By

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A young veteran who has been active in the upper New York State area for over two decades, Michael Melito's two recordings as a leader, My Conception , and 'Bout Time! , have garnered favorable notice in wider jazz circles. What is unique about Melito's drumming is his unvarnished enthusiasm for guiding a band while fitting into the music as a whole. He's a decisive player but also a prudent and empathetic one. Melito eschews the indiscriminate bashing and rattletrap sound of many modern drummers in favor of more subtle means of generating excitement. A master of dynamics and shading, he plays as if being felt is as important as being heard. Further, Melito takes a linear approach to timekeeping in which interruptions are brief, to the point, and carefully considered. In this framework his hard accents and concise, edgy fills come off as surprises. Because he uses them sparingly, these interludes have a greater impact then persistent clamor.

During the head and solos on a slow-to-medium tempo version of the standard "Like Someone In Love" (Michael Melito Quintet, My Conception , MHR Records), Melito displays most of the basic components of his style. He begins by applying a stick to the hi-hat cymbal while Joe Magnarelli (muted trumpet) and Ralph Lalama (tenor saxophone) take turns playing the melody. Placing his strokes under Paul Gill's bass and Paul Hofmann's piano, they delineate a steady pulse as well as emitting a hiss that alternately drags and lurches forward. Toward the end of Lalama's segment the drummer cuts loose with five fat blows to the snare followed by two stout bass drum hits. This bold gambit has an immediate, galvanizing effect on the music.

For Hofmann, Magnarelli, and Lalama's solos, Melito switches to the ride cymbal, making the strokes blend into Gill's walking bass line. Together the drummer and bassist establish a beat that manages to be both wide and supple. In the midst of this nice even flow, Melito adds discrete, off-the-beat accents on the snare, in no particular order, at the rate of about one per measure. They don't stand out as much as simply pop up and immediately vanish. Aside from some chomping fills at the end of every 32 bars, Melito avoids monotony by varying the emphasis of the accents, often combining them with airy cymbal crashes.

Melito's judicious sticking and keen sense of dynamics fit surprisingly well into the boisterous hard bop anthems that comprise a significant amount of the material on his recordings. During the "A" section of Wayne Shorter's "Marie Antoinette" (Michael Melito Quintet, My Conception , MHR Records) he executes snare drum accents in accord with a part of the melody (played by trumpeter John Sneider and tenor saxophonist Grant Stewart) that skips across the beat. The strokes are firm enough to add some weight, yet they don't detract attention from the horns. On Butch Warren's "The Way I Feel" (Michael Melito Quartet, 'Bout Time! , MHR Records), his accents fall outside of Stewart's breezy rendition of the melody, most often in the midst of Paul Hofmann's chords. In a particularly effective sequence, he plays in unison with the pianist between beats 1 and 2, squarely on beat 3, and between beat 4 and the first one of the next measure—increasing his volume each time and bearing down firmly on the last stroke.

The differences in Melito's comping behind three soloists are an important part of an up-tempo rendition of Kenny Dorham's "Asiatic Raes" (Michael Melito Quintet, My Conception , MHR Records). As usual, he seldom draws attention to the drums per se; rather, Melito wants us to hear just how well the band swings as a unit. The ride cymbal provides steady—albeit unobtrusive—pulsation. During Ralph Lalama's first chorus, accents on the snare are frequent but in no discernable pattern. The effect of these jabs is almost subliminal—they impact the music, yet you have to pay close attention to hear them clearly. Therefore the occasional hardening of the strokes is significant, and at times you can detect 3 and 4 stroke phrases. Melito also picks up on some of the rhythmic nuances of Hofmann's chording and responds appropriately. Moreover, spanning the end of Lalama's second chorus and the beginning of the third, he executes an extended fill between the snare and bass drums that feels like a series of quick, forceful shoves; however, like the other extroverted moments of his drumming, it doesn't give pause or retard the band's progress.

Melito takes a typically light approach on Paul Hofmann's first solo chorus, and then plays a rim knock on the fourth beat of each bar of the second chorus. Contrary to the irregularity of the accents behind Lalama, this resonant click swings in a more direct and obvious manner.

Although he still relishes the role of accompanist and continues to stay in the pocket, for Joe Magnarelli's three choruses Melito is increasingly active and, in conjunction with Gill, pushes the band harder than before. His drumming is a little louder in general, and the snare drum accents (often combined with single smacks to the bass drum) are more insistent than usual, sometimes enhancing the trumpeter's phrases. Melito even comes off of the cymbal on a couple of occasions to execute punchy two-handed fills on the snare and tom-toms.

Selected Discography

Michael Melito Quintet, My Conception (MHR Records)
Michael Melito Quartet, 'Bout Time! (MHR Records)
Paul Hofmann, Topsy Turvy (MHR Records)
Joe Romano, This Is The Moment (Self produced)
Dino Losito, Like That (Bass On Top)

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