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Stick With Me is percussionist Peppe Merolla's first album as leader with this sextet of excellent New York-based musicians, and his involving and imaginative playing takes them through a set of tunes with a distinct hard bop flavor. Merolla's musical history includes a recording career in his native Italy as teenage singing sensation "Little Joe" but here he focuses on drums and percussion with a consistently swinging and inventive style, providing a powerful yet sensitive foundation for his fellow musicians.
The introduction to "Naples"Merolla's sole composition in this collection and the album's opening trackfeatures some free-form percussion over which trombonist and seashellist Steve Turre plays a conch shell. The sound is unlike anything else on the albumalthough reminiscent of trumpeter Byron Wallen's Meeting Ground (Twilight Jaguar, 2007)but soon Merolla kicks in the beat and the tune continues in a Cuban-influenced bop style.
Tenor saxophonist John Farnsworth contributes most of the original tunes on the album, with five to his credit. The tunes are characterized by some excellent ensemble playing from the three horns of Farnsworth, Turre, and trumpeter Jim Rotondi. They also include some effective soloingTurré's solo on "Ferris Wheel" is especially noteworthy.
A cover of Willie Nelson's "Crazy" is not an obvious choice for a hard bop bandin fact it's the least successful tune on the album. Both Merolla and pianist Mike LeDonne sound lackluster and the horns, with the exception of Farnsworth's tenor, are gimmicky rather than emotive. However, the album's drive soon returns with Farnsworth's "Mozzin'"which features a fine solo from LeDonneand "Princess of the Mountain." The album's standout tune, Charles Greenlee's "Marbella," has a looser feel than the rest of the album. Merolla's drumming is more relaxed and the horn section has a gentler and more laid back sound than usual. Turré's trombone is beautifully warm and rich.
On the evidence of Stick With Me Merolla can add a talent as bandleader to his undoubted percussion skills. This enjoyable album combines high-quality playing, some inventive percussion, irresistible grooves and a good deal of swingcontemporary hard bop at its finest.
Track Listing: Naples; Ferris Wheel; Junior; Marbella; A Cry for Understanding; Crazy; Mozzin'; Princess of the Mountain; One for Bud.
Personnel: Peppe Merolla: drums, percussion; Steve Turré: trombone, shells; Jim Rotondi: trumpet, flugelhorn; John Farnsworth: tenor saxophone; Mike LeDonne: piano; Lee Smith: bass.