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View From Pikes by Denis DiBlasio

I just took a look at the JazzTimes "Year in Review ’06 Readers’ Poll," and I have one question:

Where is Denis DiBlasio’s name?

The other worthy winners of the baritone saxophone segment of the poll certainly deserve recognition. James Carter’s organ trio work on Out of Nowhere was brimming with irrepressible energy and excitement. Who would slight Gary Smulyan’s continuing dedication to the instrument with his participation in jazz orchestras, the Three Baritone Saxophone Band and his other memorable recordings? Ronnie Cuber? His work over the past 45 years deserves even more recognition than he currently receives. Claire Daly keeps on movin’ on, carrying the torch from the earlier generations of masters of the baritone sax.

But if there isn’t room in a poll of this nature for an exhilarating baritone saxophonist like Denis DiBlasio, the fault is in the poll. Or in the polls. The same complaint occurs in any artistic competition that ranks talent, which by its subjective nature cannot be objectively rankable.

In any case, DiBlasio’s View from Pikes proves once again that his distinctive style both on baritone sax and flute is not only technically astounding, as proven by his jaw-dropping performance on "Tear Up an Anvil in an Open Field," but also richly appealing whether on ballads like "Tenderly" or his interpretation of Eugene Bozza’s flowing "Aria."

So confident is DiBlasio in the rhythmic abilities of his accompanists that he plays without drums. That’s as it should be. Jim Ridl has proven again and again to be eminently adaptable to any musical situation. And he proves it yet again. Whether he lays down the cushion of feathery treble-clef chords leading into the impressionistic "View from Pikes" or whether he plays in unison with DiBlasio’s flute the jumping blues line of "Whereyabin," Ridl handles the difficult feat of back-up and rhythmic foundation with assured professionalism. More than that, DiBlasio and Ridl feed ideas to one another, a fact that is unmistakably evident on "Whereyabin" as they trade fours and pick up one another’s phrases. Bassist Steve Varner holds everything together with firmness and a confident feel for the music. Varner's loping phrases on "A New Kind of Tired" set the mood for the piece, and his walking lines underlying the melody forcefully anticipate the beat on "Pacific Ride."

But listen to how cleverly and logically DiBlasio develops his solo on "Pacific Ride" as he employs the entire range of the baritone sax--jabbing here, descending through turns and mordants, growling and wailing, always keeping the sense of swing inherent in his music. On "Abbraccio," DiBlasio uses delicacy rather than force to attract the listener’s attention.

Two standards, "The Days of Wine and Roses" and "Tenderly," bookend the CD, wrapping the music contained with familiarity. The trio eases into the songs with professionals’ attention to the saxophone’s tone, the piano’s touch and the bass’s pull. This is a trio of musicians who obviously have performed together often, and the result is recommended listening.

As for the polls, maybe next year. Maybe not. Does it matter?

What matters is the pleasure that Denis DiBlasio has brought to immeasurable numbers of listeners and the lessons that he has taught to countless students throughout his career.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Denis DiBlasio
  • CD Title: View From Pikes
  • Genre: Straight-Ahead / Classic
  • Year Released: 2006
  • Record Label: Dreambox Media
  • Tracks: The Days of Wine and Roses, Aria, Pacific Ride, View from Pikes, Tear up an Anvil in an Open Field, Abbraccio, He Owns the Place, A New kind of Tired, Whereyabin, Tenderly
  • Musicians: Denis DiBlasio (baritone saxophone, flute), Jim Ridl (piano), Steve Varner (bass)
  • Rating: Five Stars
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