Thursday, September 29, 2011

Mike DiRubbo & Larry Willis

Mike DiRubbo (sax) / Larry Willis (piano)
Four Hands, One Heart (Kasanti Records; 2011)

Staying with the duet theme this week, Mike DiRubbo and Larry Willis deliver a magnificent collection of standards and a couple of originals that are warm and inventing on Four Hands, One Heart  (Kasanti). This is the first album on DiRubbo's own label and its a great way to begin.

Sweet and soft touches of Mike DiRubbo for me have a lot in common with the more comfortable but hard bop of Joe Henderson and Jackie McLean. Larry Willis for me has always had a delicate soul-influenced tone which blends perfectly to DiRubbo's rhythms. Willis has been able to move from both R&B, Rock and Jazz throughout his career. He can sometimes be compared as a soulful Harold Mabern or Kenny Barron. And when you listen to this stellar little record you might even be reminded of a recent release by the late Frank Morgan and John Hicks entitled Twogether (High Note).

On the opener, "Introspection", written by DiRubbo from his second album as leader Keep Steppin' (Criss Cross; 2001), the two maestros set a lovely free moving pattern; very little improvising, just focusing on the song structure. Not that different from the original but it does allow the listener to gently move into the realm of the album's main theme which is the unity between the two musicians. But it can also reflect the unity between friends, families, lovers and just the listener's connection to music in general.

"The Maji," a track written for Willis' Sanctuary (Mapleshade Records; 2003) album is completely stripped down from the quintet piece this was originally a part of. But the uptempo level has been dissected to a more insular tone between sax and piano to gives the song a real emotional impact the original doesn't deliver. Horace Silver's "Peace" maintains the same soulful energy of the original but makes a bolder impact thanks to DiRubbo taking over a combination of notes from Blue Mitchell (trumpet) and Junior Cook (sax). But it's Willis who shines here. He transforms Silver's passages into a deeper register that really leaves you hanging onto every note.

"Alone Together" makes for a beautiful closing number. A simple three chord pattern from Willis in the opening and a long sultry soliloquy from DiRubbo extends the piece with a stirring resonance that is both powerful and uplifting.

Four Hands, One Heart is a wonderful contemporary album that merges both the talent of a legendary pianist and the already accomplished and well respected saxophonist. This is great stuff that deserves everyone's ears...

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