Saturday, January 15, 2011

The January Roundup

Chronos - Mike DiRubbo (Posi-Tone Records) - DiRubbo, a native of New Haven CT and graduate of the Jackie McLean Institute at the Hartt School/University of Hartford, is an alto saxophonist who understands "the burn", the ability to take the music up a notch when called for.  Throughout "Chronos", his 6th CD as a leader, he finds ways to take this organ trio into overdrive without descending into chaos.  "Rituals" features several "hot" solos but it is the saxophonist's drive to the finish line that really excites the senses. Part of the credit goes to drummer Rudy Royston (Bill Frisell, Ron Miles) who, when called for, really drives the music.  Organist Brian Charette (Lou Donaldson, Cyndi Lauper) is the perfect foil for DiRubbo, his active feet providing bass lines that "swing" and "pulsate" while his coloring beneath the solos is always "right."  His solos are concise and quite musical. He contributes 2 of the 9 original pieces including the pretty ballad "Excellent Taste" and "More Physical", the lilting yet up-tempo piece that closes the program with varying waves of intensity.  The give-and-take of the sax and organ, along with Royston's subtle then active percussion, has a powerful feel. The leader's solos seem to leap out of the speakers, with an intensity, at times, that borders on ferocious. He, also, utilizes overdubbing on the title track, a smart arrangement of the sound.
Mike DiRubbo may not forge new ground with "Chronos" but makes the organ trio format sound fresh and vital.  By making Charette and Royston equal partners in the creative process, the music is alive with possibilities.  For more information, go to
Here's the opening track to whet your appetite (courtery of Posi-Tone Records and IODA Promonet):
Minor Progress (mp3)

Bach-Centric - Dave Camwell (Teal Creek Music) - Saxophonist Camwell, comfortable in both the jazz and classical idioms, takes the music of Johann Sebastian Bach and makes its come alive. Whether overdubbing 4 reeds on "Cantata 29" or going it alone on alto for the 5-part "Sonata in A Minor" (sounding not unlike Paul Desmond!), this music never sounds dated.  There are so many highlights, from the 15 movements of the "Two-Part Inventions" (originally composed for clavichord and arranged for alto saxophones by Charlie Vetter) recorded in duo with alto saxophonist Stephen Page to the "Concerto in D minor" (arranged by James Bunte) for a saxophone quartet of Camwell (alto and tenor), Bunte (alto), Nathan Nabb (soprano) and James Romain (baritone).  The reed instruments give Bach's music a warmth and depth that sets it apart from Bach's works for clavichord or harpsichord. That's not meant to disparage the music for those keyboard instruments, much of which is breathtaking in its scope but Camwell's reeds add an airiness (no pun intended) that delights and soothes the mind.  The beauty and gentleness of works such as "Little Fugue in G Minor" and "Concerto in F" (movement 3), both tracks that feature Camwell on all parts, are joyous.
Classical music for saxophone, either original or transcribed, is nothing new yet "Bach-Centric" is fresh and entertaining.  For more information, go to    

Life's Little Dramas - George Schuller Trio (Fresh Sounds New Talent) - George Schuller is one of those drummers who can drive a band with power and finesse, blending in to an ensemble in such a way that does not call undue attention to him but makes one realize how important he is to the music.  Having seen him play in concert spaces and performance venues, his strength is that he listens, interacts and creates without missing a beat.  On the opening track, "Glass Notes", his interaction with pianist Dan Tepfer gives the piece its tension and release.  While bassist Jeremy Stratton anchors the work, the piano and drums stretch, chase and play in an appealing way.  That's the hallmark of the entire program - let the music breathe, dig deeply into the melodic, harmonic and rhythmic possibilities and never settle for the ordinary. There may be thousands of versions of Vernon Duke's "Autumn in New York" - here, the trio "swings" the standard with grace, a touch of the blues, extemporizing on the "changes" and only touching on the famous/recognizable melody near the end.
For a young pianist, Tepfer seemingly has no boundaries. One hears touches of Keith Jarrett and Brad Mehldau on pieces such as "Apocalypso" (such fun) and "Salad Days" but faintly and without resorting to mannerisms or cliches.  Schuller's "New Toon" allows the pianist space to develop the melody and expand the harmonies; he does so with fluid lines, two-handed melodic flourishes that move around the tempo and interact with the declarative drum work. It's easy to "get lost" in the groove of "None Taken", the loping bass lines and the rising piano melody, driven by Schuller's insistent yet not intrusive percussion.
"Life's Little Dramas" is music that invites the listener in and does not let go until the final note.  The interplay, the melodies, the dynamic rhythm section and the excellent work of Dan Tepfer will bring you back again and again.  For more information, go to
The Trio appears at The Buttonwood Tree in Middletown, CT on March 4  - call 860-347-4957 for more information or online at

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