Photo: Yuki Tei
Alto saxophonist Mike DiRubbo has been around the New York scene for a while, doing the straight-ahead hard-bop thing. He studied with Jackie McLean, and has played with a number of highly regarded musicians older than himself, including Eddie Henderson, John Hicks and Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown. Chronos (buy it from Amazon) is his sixth CD as a leader, and his second for the Posi-Tone label. On his last album, 2009’s Repercussion, he fronted a band featuring vibes, bass and drums. This time out, he’s stripped it down to organ and drums (played by Brian Charette and Rudy Royston, respectively), and the results are stark and at times surprisingly hard-hitting.
It would be unfair to suggest that this is an assaultive or even especially free record. Most any Larry Young Blue Note album would offer a greater level of raw abstraction; DiRubbo is a blues- and bop-based, swinging player, and given that every track here is either one of his compositions or written by Charette, the general vibe is one of soulfulness and groove. And yet…there’s some aggression here that vaults Chronos out of the pack of boring, hockey-rink organ-jazz discs. There are moments, during Charette’s solo on the title track, that almost venture into Keith Emerson (of Emerson, Lake & Palmer) territory, and later in the same piece, DiRubbo latches onto a three-note phrase and goes after it like a dentist drilling into the listener’s back-most molar, before embarking on a solo with some surprisingly screechy, harsh moments.
That solo’s an exception, though. For most of the disc, DiRubbo is the stabilizing force, attempting to keep things in a gently bopping zone that wouldn’t throw the folks who come to jazz clubs to eat wildly overpriced chicken entrees. But Charette seems bent on subversion; at the end of “Excellent Taste,” which he wrote, he plays a hypnotic, almost psychedelic pattern as the track fades down, and it’s the best thing about the piece. Similarly, his work on the bluesy “Eight for Elvin” is weirder than it needs to be; some of his lines sound more indebted to Ray Manzarek of the Doors than to Jimmy Smith, John Patton or any other jazz organ player. Meanwhile, Rudy Royston attacks the drums with more than enough force to justify the track being titled in tribute to Elvin Jones, known as one of jazz’s hardest hitters during his time with John Coltrane.
Royston also drives the band quite hard on the hammering (“uptempo” doesn’t do it justice) “Rituals,” and even when he’s laying down a relatively staid Latin groove (“Lilt,” which lives up to its title), he finds a way to do something interesting. And on the album’s closing track, “More Physical,” which could have been a deal-breaker, given that DiRubbo plays the (ugh) soprano sax, the drummer throws in enough unexpected accents with the toms and the rim of the snare that things stay interesting all the way to the four-minute mark (of five and a half), when the leader’s solo becomes quite shockingly piercing, as though Najee had suddenly become possessed by Evan Parker. The piece ends in soul jazz-meets-free jazz territory, which ought to come as a major surprise to fans of DiRubbo, Posi-Tone Records, and sax-organ-drums combos alike. This isn’t a skronky album by any means. But if you put it on and expect to curl up on your couch with a book, don’t be surprised if you find yourself glancing worriedly at the speakers a time or two.
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