Mike DiRubbo and Larry Willis – Four Hands, One Heart – Ksanti Records KSR001, 69:43 ****½:
(Mike DiRubbo, saxophone & Larry Willis, piano)
Recording as a duo is like walking a tightrope. It can be an exhilarating experience, or it can provide risks of failure if the duo do not blend well or find an effective communication. Mike DiRubbo, the noted alto saxophonist, who studied with Jackie McLean at the Hartt School of Music, has started his own label, Ksanti Records, and chosen Four Hands, One Heart as the label’s opening release. Ksanti in Sanskrit means patience, and on this release little patience is needed as these two musicians find a comfortable groove that continues through all eight tracks.
DiRubbo has recorded for Sharp Nine, Criss Cross, and Posi-Tone before deciding to start his own label with hopes of releasing future projects of both his own and others in the vibrant New York jazz scene. Bringing on board Larry Willis as his duo-mate is a wise move, as Larry is a consummate pianist with a very wide palette of past experience. He also recorded with Jackie McLean at the beginning of his career, as well delving into jazz rock, fusion, and electric piano and synthesizers in the 1970s. Along the way were stops with Blood Sweat and Tears, Alphonse Mouzon, and later with Woody Shaw near the end of Woody’s career. Willis can play avant, and can also be a sensitive ballad player, as evidenced with his Mapleshade recordings.
For Four Hands, One Heart, we find Willis and DiRubbo exploring mostly standards from Coltrane, Horace Silver, Miles, and Monk, as well as contributing an original composition each. As expected with most duo recordings, we are treated with a mostly straight-ahead setting with Willis providing a more accompanying role to Mike’s interpretations. The late Frank Morgan and John Hicks provided a similar experience on Twogether, on High Note Records, for whom Willis records.
“Introspection” opens the CD with a sublime ballad as Mike and Larry blend their talents like a well aged wine. Like a late night intimate living room meeting between old friends, the sax and piano are “as one“, neither stepping on each others lines. Willis is soulful, and DiRubbo is a passionate partner. A beautiful opener
“Pristine” is from the mellower period of Coltrane, and although the tempo and energy increase, there is an ease of communication, a telepathic meeting of the minds. “The Maji” which Willis recorded for Mapleshade in 2003 in a larger group setting, follows and is another gorgeous track. (You get the feeling with these two pros that there was no need for multiple takes when this CD was recorded on a single day: May 2, 2010.)
Two standards, “Round Midnight” and “Star Eyes” follow and are highly lyrical with Mike taking lead and Larry providing more than able comping.
One of my favorite Horace Silver compositions, “Peace,” is next and the title says it all. Willis, mid-track, has an extensive solo, and it reveals his mastery of the ballad.
“Milestones” and “Alone Together” conclude the Willis/DiRubbo meeting and the former features fairly intense interaction, while the latter is similar to the first three tracks, where tight knit passionate beauty is foremost.
Kudos go out to Ian Hendrickson-Smith for a superb job in mixing and mastering. Mike DiRubbo produced this labor of love. I hope it receives the airplay and attention that it deserves.
Tracklist: Introspection, Pristine, The Maji, ‘Round Midnight, Star Eyes, Peace, Milestones, Alone Together
A bona fide jazz legend is celebrated with an all-star documentary soundtrack vinyl soundtrack.