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Joe Ascione plays the drums in the aggressive, take-no-prisoners mode of Buddy Rich, which is no surprise since he once worked as Rich’s roadie. In addition to his powerhouse chops, Ascione displays excellent instincts as a leader on his debut release on the Arbors label. While his drumming is busy and LOUD, he is a supportive player who does not step on his bandmates’ toes.
The album features trio, quartet, and quintet versions of mostly familiar modern jazz standardssome perhaps a bit too familiar, though the group does interesting things with them. Ascione’s superb trio includes Dave LaLama on piano and Tim Givens on bass, with guests Ron Affif on guitar and Jerry Weldon on tenor sax. And Ascione wisely gives each of these fine musicians plenty of room to shine.
LaLama shows off his improvisational dexterity and inventiveness on the opening number, the Johnny Mercer-Harold Arlen gem “My Shining Hour.” The pianist ends the piece with some of this decidedly straight-ahead album’s furthest out playing, before an unfortunate fadeout. Bassist Givens plays the head on “Get Happy,” with Ascione drumming forcefully behind him and taking some impressive solos. Weldon’s smooth, full bodied tenor is featured to nice effect on Bud Powell’s “Bouncin’ With Bud” and Sonny Stitt’s “Eternal Triangle.” Guitarist Affif steps out front on a high-precision sprint through Sonny Rollins’ “Pent Up House,” as well as on a relaxed take on Sammy Cahn’s “All My Tomorrows.”
While Ascione is at his best on the full-speed-ahead numbers that call for him to play hard and fast, he can also handle tunes where a light touch is needed, as on Billy Strayhorn’s “Chelsea Bridge” or the Hammerstein-Kern classic “Nobody Else But Me.” The quintet take on Coltrane’s “Moment’s Notice” provides for some fine ensemble playing by all. The trio tackles Miles Davis’ “All Blues” at a quicker than usual tempo, with LaLama pushing hard and Givens’ offering a memorable bowed solo. Throughout the proceedings, Ascione’s drumming is imaginative and unrelenting. A rewarding album from a drummer sure to heard from again.