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The University of Hartford

Darren Barrett – First One Up
J Curve Records
Mike DiRubbo Quintet – From the Inside Out
Sharp Nine Records
Various Artists – Live at Birdland!: Cookin’ in Midtown RCA Victor
by Chuck Obuchowski

    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 McLean’s group last year, around the time trombonist Steve Davis left to go on the road with Chick Corea’s Origin. Barrett’s 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 Hartford’s 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.

DiRubbo’s Search Within

    The "Jackie Mac" connection is almost too close for comfort on the young alto saxist’s first album as a leader, From the Inside Out. At the time these tracks were recorded (Halloween 1994), three of DiRubbo’s sidemen were members of McLean’s sextet: Davis, bassist Nat Reeves and drummer Carl Allen. Although DiRubbo did not actually record any of McLean’s 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 mentor’s 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 DiRubbo’s 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 Gillespie’s "Bebop," by contrast, is essentially DiRubbo’s 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 he’s 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 Edelman’s 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).

Dee’s Themes

    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 Barrett’s 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 section—Aaron 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 Golberg’s work deserves special mention—check out his recent solo effort, Turning Point, also available on J Curve.
    Barrett’s 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 track’s powerful vibrations (his playing is even more amazing on take two). McLean’s energy seems to permeate this composition, yet, as "Dee’s" 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 club’s bygone days can still be tapped—and the five young bands represented here, all recorded during the past year, each offer hope for the music’s 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, and—like Douglas—for 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 album’s opening track is a throwaway pop ballad. However, the pianist’s other featured composition is an absolute tour de force. "For Monk’s Sake" benefits from Jackson’s 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 it’s 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

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