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Human Spirit by Mike DiRubbo Quintet

Human Spirit is alto saxophonist Mike DiRubbo’s third album as a leader. It was preceded by 1999’s "From The Inside Out" and 2001’s "Keep Steppin’". "From The Inside Out" was my initial introduction to DiRubbo’s playing and I was completely blown away by this young man’s phenomenal talent (he was a mere 24 years old at the time). I was slightly disappointed by the follow-up "Keep Steppin’", not because the playing wasn’t great but because I felt he took fewer chances and didn’t stretch quite as much on that recording. Well, with "Human Spirit" he has completely redeemed himself in my eyes. He has combined the impetuousness of youth that permeated the first disc with the sage maturity presented on the second disc and the result is extremely exciting.

With skills that he developed and ripened under the mentorship of sax legend Jackie McLean at the Hartt School Of Music (where he was awarded a scholarship), DiRubbo continues to grow artistically at an accelerated pace. Not only is he a great sax player but he’s also an extremely gifted composer. He contributed some memorable original tunes to both of the first discs, and this one is no exception. Here four of the eight tunes are his - "Transfer", a spirited mid-tempo hard-bop number, "Human Spirit", a mid-tempo ballad with an extremely lovely melody that sticks with you long after the tune has ended, "North Shore Reflections", a slow ballad that’s deliciously lazy and sensual and "Throwback", another mid-tempo hard-bop excursion that brings to mind some of the great Blue Note tracks of the 60’s. The other four tunes are Mancini’s "Moon River", McLean’s "Minor March", Hank Mobley’s "Bossa For Baby" and Jim Rotondi’s "Down".

DiRubbo writes in his liner notes that his sound on alto is quite often compared to that of McLean’s. I agreed with that statement when I heard the first album, but his sound has changed and matured quite a bit since then. If I were to compare him to anyone right now, it would be to another one of my favorite alto players, Kenny Garrett, who plays with the same type of brash attack and ‘openness’ of tone. Not only do they share a similarity in tone but there is also something familiar in their songwriting style as well (side note: Garrett’s first release as a leader was here on Criss Cross, before moving on to Warner Bros.).

DiRubbo’s soloing on this album is, to put it bluntly, simply electrifying. If he were playing at an excitement level of 10 on the first album and level 8 on the second, he’s easily playing at level 12 on this one. On the last album, his soloing was fairly straight-forward, rhythmically and harmonically, and he didn’t stray far from the horn’s middle range. Here he embellishes with all sorts of devices, from false fingerings to constantly changing rhythmic variations to explorations into the altissimo register and he does it all in a way that never seems strained or unnatural, but that comes across as an extension of his personal (and still evolving) style.

DiRubbo has put together another stellar rhythm section for this session. Joe Farnsworth (who appeared on the last recording) is back on drums and fellow jazz veterans David Hazeltine and Peter Washington round it out on piano and bass, respectively. Trumpeter Jim Rotondi has also returned from the last recording , this time playing some flugelhorn as well. DiRubbo’s playing sets a high standard here, but his band mates are all up to the task and the energy they create as a band spurs each individual on to even greater heights.

This fantastic album serves as another snapshot of Mike DiRubbo’s continuing development as one of the most promising saxophonists on the jazz scene today. I highly recommend it and eagerly look forward to his next presentation.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Mike DiRubbo Quintet
  • CD Title: Human Spirit
  • Genre: BeBop / Hard Bop
  • Year Released: 2003
  • Record Label: Criss Cross Jazz
  • Tracks: Transfer, Moon River, Human Spirit, Minor March, North Shore Reflections, Bossa For Baby, Throwback, Down
  • Musicians: Mike DiRubbo (alto saxophone), Jim Rotondi (trumpet, flugelhorn), David Hazeltine (piano), Peter Washington (bass), Joe Farnsworth (drums)
  • Rating: Five Stars
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