Sunday, March 9, 2014

Bring On The Heat!

In conversation with Brian Charette as he and drummer Jordan Young were in a car recently on their way from Cleveland to Cincinnati (Mr. Young was driving), the organist told me that his training on the B-3 came under the heading "trial by fire." Trained as a pianist (and having played gigs with the likes of Houston Person and Lou Donaldson while in high school), he moved to New York City and one of his first jobs was as on organ. He made it through without embarrassing himself but went right out and bought an organ, rented a space and practiced long hours.

Over the past 2 decades, he has worked with Joni Mitchell, Chaka Khan and Bucky Pizzarelli (and many more) plus spends a good chunk of the year in Europe.  He has issued 7 CDs as a leader with 8 + 9 just being released including his new Sextette CD, "The Question That Drives Us" (Steeplechase) and his debut as a leader on PosiTone Records titled "Square One."  It's the latter one we'll look at here (and save the former for next week.)

"Square One" finds the Meriden, CT, native in the company of Israeli-born guitarist Yotam Silberstein and the great drummer Mark Ferber.  The trio had played numerous gigs together so, by the time they entered Acoustic Recording in Brooklyn, NY, they were ready to hit.  Most of the tracks were recorded in 1 take (the session took less than 4 hours) but nothing sounds incomplete.  Ferber swings with abandon throughout giving both Charette and Silberstein an excellent cushion to solo over.  Also, the organist's bass pedal footwork provides even more depth.  Charette also mentioned in our conversation that he is always prepared before entering the studios and the vast majority of his songs have strong melodies while being smartly arranged. Best of all, this music is really a lot of fun (in keeping with the leader's attitude in life.)  Opening with the funky "pop" of "Aaight" that almost immediately drops into a "swing" groove and back again, "Square One" keeps one guessing.  There are  2 "cover" tunes, the hard-driving "If" (composed by saxophonist Joe Henderson for organist Lary Young's 1956 Blue Note Lp "Unity") and the New Orleans groove of "Ease Back" (a tune composed and recorded in 1969 by The Meters). On the former track, Ferber really digs in and pushes mightily while, on the latter, the trio speeds the piece up from the original making even more danceable (dig those chunky rhythm guitar lines and "clicking" phrases from Silberstein.)

Other highlights include the "otherworldly" sounds of "Things You Don't Mean" (a tune with a wicked groove) and the hard-rock modality of "A Fantasy" (great guitar work) and the insistent forward motion of "Yei Fei" (a piece most reminiscent of Larry Young's work).  "Three For Martina" has a lovely melody line and the interaction of the organ with the quiet, spare, guitar interjections stands out.  The program closes with "Ten Bars For Eddie Harris" with Ferber's charging drum work blazing the way for Silberstein's fiery guitar lines and Charette's spirited organ work.  The drummer gets to let loose for 30 seconds before the "church-y" organ chords and squalling guitar leads back to a super-charged final repeat of the opening theme.

In the afore-mentioned conversation, Brian Charette said that "Square One" was his favorite recording especially because of the excellent work of recording and mixing engineer Nick O'Toole (co-owner of PosiTone).   O'Toole really captures Mark Ferber's splendid drum work and all 3 instruments are equal in the mix.  If you still have a case of the "winter blues", put this CD in the machine and let it rip good and loud.  I'm quite sure you'll be smiling before long.  Until his new website is complete, go to for more information.

Alto saxophonist/composer Mike DiRubbo, also a CT native, came under the tutelage of saxophonist/educator Jackie McLean upon entering the Hartt School/University of Hartford. After graduation, he moved to New York City and worked with numerous artists such as drummer Carl Allen, bluesman Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, bassist Dwayne Burno, and pianist John Hicks (among many). As a leader, DiRubbo has issued 7 CDs with his most recent being the first for his Ksanti label (2011's "Four Hands, One Heart", a duo date with pianist Larry Willis.)

2014 brings the 8th CD under DiRubbo's name;  "Threshold" (Ksanti) reunites him with drummer Rudy Royston and pianist Brian Charette, both of whom appeared on the saxophonist's 2011 PosiTone trio release, "Chronos" (Charette played exclusively Hammond B-3 on that recording.).  The new release adds bassist Ugonna Okegwo and trumpeter Josh Evans (a Hartford native and Jackie McLean student who appears on  6 of the 9 tracks.)  The title song kicks off the program and it's "hot stuff" from the opening note.  With the rhythm section pushing hard and the pianist adding McCoy Tyner-inspired chords, DiRubbo delivers an inspired alto statement while Evans (who works or has worked with bassist Dezron Douglas, drummer Winard Harper and trombonist/educator Steve Davis) follows with his brand of excitement.  Charette also solos, riding the waves of sound emanating from Okegwo and Royston.  If you only heard him on B-3, Charette is a hellacious pianist as well. A taste of  mid-60s Blue Note music enters in on "Where There's a Willis There's A Way"; the tune builds on the excitement of the first track but has more shading.  After the leader tears into his spot, Evans opens in a pensive tone before picking up steam.  Charette's solo seamlessly blends blues, Latin and other influences.

With the exception of the opening cut (7:51), the tracks average around 6 minutes.  There are few, if any, extended solos and every song has a substantial melody. There are 2 ballads, the handsome "Faith" and the touching "Salter of the Earth" (which has the sound and feel of a early 1960s John Coltrane melody, especially in the long notes of the melody,)  On the latter track, the saxophonist's solo unfolds slowly, easily, his phrases filled with emotion and a tinge of sadness.

It's hard to sit still on tracks such as "Pace", which opens with such an urgency (plus some impressive walking bass) that it pulls the listener closer to the speakers.  "Curvas Perigosas" displays Royston at his most fluid, driving the band with a rhythm that suggests samba.  The soloists tap into the drummer's spirited work and deliver impressive solos.  The CD closes with a sprightly update of Charlie Parker's "Bloomdido" with the catchy melody riding atop forceful work of both Okegwo and Royston.

On his website, Mike DiRubbo states  “I want to make the hair stand up on the back of your neck!”  Upon listening to "Threshold", your entire body might just rise off your chair. This is such joyous and inspired music - find it, dig it!  For more information, go to  

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