Jazz CD of the Month: Mike Dirubbo / Threshold / Ksanti Records

Mar 1, 2014

Every now and then you slip a disc into the CD player and immediately become engaged in a thrilling experience. Such is the case with alto saxophonist Mike DiRubbo's new album “Threshold”. Firmly ensconced in the post-bop idiom, this smoking quintet session is full of captivating delights for the listener.

Mike DiRubbo is a disciple of the Jackie McLean school of alto sax, having studied with the legendary master at the University of Hartford's Hartt School of Music. DiRubbo's sound has the essence of McLean's fiery edge and urgency. He is also a strong composer whose pieces function as challenging improvisatory devices.

Accompanying DiRubbo is another Connecticut native, trumpeter Josh Evans, who also studied with Jackie McLean. Evans is a fine up-and-comer with a clean tone and innate soulfulness imbuing his playing. Brian Charette often plays the organ and some album credits mistakenly list him as playing one on this date yet he is heard solely upon the piano. This turns out to be quite a treat as his acoustic playing is a knockout. Ugonna Okegwo is the impeccable bassist and Rudy Royston keeps the beat at the drumset.

Press “play” and get a taste of jazz in the 20-teens. The title track is first – a straight-ahead burner that compares favorably to classic sixties Blue Note sessions without a hint of emulation. It's genuine heat. DiRubbo negotiates the intricate beat with supple passion, serving dazzling bursts of notes that draw the listener into the moment as they flow from his horn. Evans is in the groove from the git-go, telling a good story that is indicative of a first rate jazz musician. Then comes Charette with a thoroughly exhilarating run across the ivories. With Royston kicking the drumset and Okegwo laying down a bass line that at once underpins and propels, this piece soars until the horns close out the number in a bristling call and response trade.

Eight of nine compositions on the album are by DiRubbo. A funky beat sets-up "Where There's A Willis There's A Way" over which the soloists shape intriguing statements. "Sun Steps" has a poignant melody that is reminiscent of mid-sixties Miles Davis while sounding fresh and unique and “1970”'s Latin-tinged beat is another stimulating vehicle for the group. Three tracks feature just the quartet with Evans laying out: the pensive “Faith” and “Salter of the Earth” offer sensitive interaction between DiRubbo's alto and the rhythm section, and Charlie Parker's ebullient “Bloomdido” takes the album out with thrilling intensity.

Throughout this marvelous session, technically and creatively Mike DiRubbo and his group maintain a consistently high level of musicianship, evident in every note and element of interplay. These cats are so far out there in ability their musical message seems to evolve effortlessly - sophisticated yet unpretentious; one step beyond. An astounding recording from start to finish and our album of the month for March, “Threshold” blows the doors off the competition -  a first-class example of jazz in our time.

Mike DiRubbo: Alto Saxophone
Josh Evans: Trumpet
Brian Charette: Piano
Ugonna Okegwo: Bass
Rudy Royston: Drums

Tracks: Threshold; Where There's A Willis There's A Way; Sun Steps; Pace; Faith; Curvas Perigosas; 1970; Salter Of The Earth; Bloomdido