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Album Review

Peter DiCarlo: Onward

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Peter DiCarlo: Onward
On his debut record, New York-based alto saxophonist Peter DiCarlo establishes himself as a serious straight-ahead composer who skillfully combines an elegant alto tone with intricate reed and horn arrangements that are propelled forward by a swinging rhythm section. Dominated by a majority of self-penned hard and post-bop scores, Onward—in accordance with its title—pushes last century's idioms into this one, exploring new and exciting territory that neither defies tradition, nor resists its modern environment.

Swing is affirmed in cool prose throughout the alto's eight track set. Old-school walking bass stabs and unavoidable call and response embellishments on winds guide a handful of DiCarlo arrangements through post-bop charts that aim to pay homage to, as opposed to imitate, their models. With a keen ear for tone and an agile sensibility for elaborate melodies, DiCarlo embraces his influences full-on while making his own voice heard.

Most songs on the album had initially been intended for quartet but are for the most part elevated to sextet and septet arrangements here, inviting contouring harmonies and solo excursions. Songs like "Hint of Mint" and the title track are representative of the leader's compositional frame of mind as well as of the old-school sound the ensemble collectively brings to life. The leader's bassist brother Tom DiCarlo and drummer Chris Parker's relentless drive and unapologetically swinging approach are at least partially responsible for the music's classic appeal and properly frame Jim Ridl's distinguished piano playing—when in accompanying function and especially during the pianist's solo departures.

Notable throughout the set, Ridl's characteristic lines are a welcome prominence, whose' unique design shines especially bright on "Stepping Off," an ornate, blues-based form that demonstrates DiCarlo's melodic precision in a rapid eighth note-based rollercoaster of a head, bringing the uncompromising temper of Charlie Parker's "Donna Lee" to mind. But the real star on it remains Ridl, whose rumbling and stumbling left-hand stride and outside playing right-hand extravagancies steal the show in the best possible way.

Inspired by Joe Henderson's "Recorda Me," laid-back Latin-tinged ballad "The Imposter" brings Rich Perry's lyrical tenor lines to the fore, before the alto takes over in an extensive display of nimble musicianship. Alternating in balanced cohesion, the winds blossom to full color, letting each individual contribute with character and confidence. DiCarlo's presence takes a natural lead, but his role is organically traded through the ranks so that the remaining cast may make noteworthy appearances, as trumpeter Scott Wendholt and Ridl do in the soulful "Feast in the Fuar." An even larger frequency of trade-offs between soloists takes place in the sole drummer contribution "Arrival," when bass, piano, tenor and alto alternate leads in a conversational manner, to a backdrop of collective lament.

Eugene McDaniels-penned R & B hymn "Feel Like Makin' Love" unfortunately proves an unfitting closer that shifts styles too abruptly and debuts Jerson Trinidad's vocals to the ensemble sound too suddenly, too late. In itself a more than worthy rendition of the song that gained '70s icon Roberta Flack her third and last number one single in the US, it seems awkwardly placed in this context and ends up being a forgivable misstep that DiCarlo's percussion-riddled take on the standard "There Will Never be Another You" makes up for in spades.

With this debut offering out, Peter DiCarlo can confidently tick the "straight ahead" box. Been there, done that. He's not only mastered this variety of jazz, but more importantly, he's created an appealing recording that finds his catchy compositions in the company and hands of a proficient cast that complements the altoist's fluent poise with sweeping momentum.

Track Listing

Onward; Feast in the Fuar; Stepping Off; The Imposter; Arrival; Hint of Mint; There Will Never Be Another You; Feel Like Makin’ Love.

Personnel

Peter DiCarlo: saxophone, alto; Scott Wendholt: trumpet; Rich Perry: saxophone, tenor; Claire Daly: saxophone, baritone; Jim Ridl: piano; Tom DiCarlo: bass; Chris Parker: drums; Keisel Jimenez Leyva: percussion; Jerson Trinidad: voice / vocals.

Album information

Title: Onward | Year Released: 2021 | Record Label: Shifting Paradigm Records


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