At first glance, you might not
notice any connection between these three releases, but closer inspection will reveal the
guiding hand of Jackie McLean at work behind each session. Trumpeter Darren Barrett became
a member of McLeans group last year, around the time trombonist Steve Davis left to
go on the road with Chick Coreas Origin. Barretts right-hand saxman, Jimmy
Greene, studied under McLean as a high school student (at The Artists Collective) and
throughout his college years at The University of Hartfords Hartt School. Greene and
Barrett perform together on two selections from Live at Birdland. Mike DiRubbo is
also a Hartt School grad and has teaching experience at The Artists Collective.
DiRubbos Search Within
The "Jackie Mac" connection is almost too
close for comfort on the young alto saxists first album as a leader, From the
Inside Out. At the time these tracks were recorded (Halloween 1994), three of
DiRubbos sidemen were members of McLeans sextet: Davis, bassist Nat
Reeves and drummer Carl Allen. Although DiRubbo did not actually record any of
McLeans compositions on this date, "Rue de la Harpe" is a tune he
discovered via The Meeting, a McLean collaboration with Dexter Gordon.
From the Inside Out found DiRubbo with feet still planted
firmly in his mentors territory, but who would deny that this was some pretty darn
good territory to apprentice in? And how could anyone fault him for recording with the
aforementioned musicians, who had already developed a strong musical rapport with one
another, and who brought prior studio experience with them to these sessions?
Fact is DiRubbos writing and improvising was already quite
advanced by this time, if somewhat derivative. For an example of his maturing
compositional skills, listen to "Blues to Your Old Country," which the New Haven
native wrote in honor of his Sicilian heritage. This lilting melody imparts a touch of
Mediterranean sunshine, even as the participants prepare to set sail on bluesy waves of
improvisation. Dizzy Gillespies "Bebop," by contrast, is essentially
DiRubbos bebop rite of passage, his opportunity to genuflect before the altar of
Bird. He rises to the challenge by effortlessly negotiating the changes at a breakneck
pace few players would dare attempt.
Nowadays, DiRubbo calls Brooklyn home, and hes been gradually
establishing himself as a vital member of the Big Apple jazz scene. He has logged
thousands more hours on his horn and journeyed many miles in search of the soul within
this music; From the Inside Out documents an earlier stage of his artistic
path, but time has not diminished the allure of its tasteful, swinging grooves. Mark
Edelmans Sharp Nine Records, whose motto is "straight ahead and in the
pocket," are to be commended for their enthusiastic support of overlooked mainstream
improvisers. Information is available at their web site: (www.sharpnine.com).
Darren "Dee" Barrett hails from
Manchester, England although before his first birthday, his family moved to Jamaica, and
then relocated to Toronto five years later. More recently, Barrett has made his home in
Boston, excepting a period of study at Queens College, where in 1995 he earned an MS in
music education. The well-traveled trumpeter sounds like a seasoned veteran on his
recording premier, the aptly titled First One Up.
Barrett grew up listening to Miles Davis, Fredddie Hubbard and Clifford
Brown, but his current conception also encompasses the kind of probing intensity and
powerful chops Woody Shaw displayed in his younger days. Those qualities are abundantly
present in Barretts longtime colleague, Jimmy Greene. The former Bloomfield reed
player had a bright spot on the tarnished Hartford jazz scene during the past five years,
until the pull of New York became too strong for him to resist. Since his move, he has
performed and recorded with Horace Silver, Claudio Roditi and Lewis Nash. Greene has just
signed a record deal with RCA. He was runner-up in the 1996 Thelonious Monk Institute of
Jazz International Competition; Barrett won the coveted award the following year.
Since 1995, Barrett and Greene have been part of a Boston-based
cooperative ensemble. Its rhythm sectionAaron Goldberg, piano; Reuben Rogers, bass;
John Lampkin, drums--is featured on First One Up, along with special guest Kenny
Garrett, who subs for Greene on several cuts. The years this quintet has woodsheded
together definitely pay off here; they achieve a level of communication all too
rare these days, especially so for a first effort. All are fine soloists, but
Golbergs work deserves special mentioncheck out his recent solo effort,
Turning Point, also available on J Curve.
Barretts composing shows great maturity as well. "Conceta
Elfreda," written in memory of his mother, is a loving, beautifully constructed
tribute, made more enticing by its subtle reggae beat, which recalls her Jamaican
homeland. Hear how Garrett sounds positively enraptured by the title tracks powerful
vibrations (his playing is even more amazing on take two). McLeans energy seems to
permeate this composition, yet, as "Dees" teacher/CD producer Donald Byrd
points out, the 31-year-old trumpeter "is letting us see his future projections"
with his First Time Up.
Five Tales from Birdland
This famed New York club was recently reborn at a
new location on 44th Street. Judging by the performances on Live at Birdland! Much
of the energy of the clubs bygone days can still be tappedand the five young
bands represented here, all recorded during the past year, each offer hope for the
musics future directions.
The two tunes featuring the Greene/Barrett Quintet predate First One
Up by six months but are no less impressive. In fact, the looseness of this
comfortable setting encourages the soloists to challenge themselves to seek more daring
avenues of improvisation.
Of course, trumpeter Dave Douglas daring avenues have been
receiving attention for some years now. His pianoless quartet (one of several groups he
leads) prominently spotlights fellow seeker Chris Potter on saxophones. The group sounds
unusually reserved here, but that probably means the producers selected two of their most
accessible pieces for this compilation. In any case, the tunes do serve as a good
introduction for those who have yet to hear this forward-thinking foursome.
Also noted for his bold improvisations, andlike Douglasfor
his classical training, is Canadian pianist D.D. Jackson. The band he assembled at
Birdland takes his music in some slightly different, more electric, directions than his
fans may be accustomed to. "Easy," the albums opening track is a throwaway
pop ballad. However, the pianists other featured composition is an absolute tour de
force. "For Monks Sake" benefits from Jacksons now-familiar keyboard
intensity, but it is violinist Christian Howe, previously unknown to this reviewer, who
generates the most excitement. Howe possesses string power reminiscent of Billy Bang,
coupled with the kind of lyricism Stephane Grappelli was known for.
Guitarist Peter Bernstein also offers a pair of originals, backed by a
sensitive trio, which includes a pair of occasional Mike DiRubbo bandmates: Bruce Barth
(piano) and Joe Farnsworth (drums).
Finally, percussionist Ralph Irizarry and his Timbalaye septet inject
this sampler with some very exciting Latin rhythmic energy. No mention is made in the
liner notes as to whether or not this band has recorded before, but its a safe bet
that, if indeed this is their debut on disc, a full program of their unique folk jazz
blend should be in the works, if there is any justice in the recording industry.
Copyright©WWUH: July/August Program Guide, 2000