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Dennis DiBlasio: Rhino

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The grossly underrated baritone saxophonist from New Jersey and former musical director for Maynard Ferguson’s band takes the eclectic route on his seventh project as a leader, flashing prodigious chops on both bari and flute along the way. Drummer Jim Miller, pianist Jim Ridl and bassist Darryl Hall (a 1996 Monk Competition winner for bass players) offer able support and some superb solos of their own, making for an exceptionally strong band outing.

They come out of the chute with their wheels screeching on the boppish burner “Fah-getta-boutit,” a suitable showcase for DiBlasio’s forcefully swinging approach to the bari. He breaks out the flute on “Makin’ Whoopee,” turning the melody over to bassist Hall, then takes a more reflective approach to the big horn on his own heartfelt tribute to his late mother, “Graceful Exit.”

The band turns in a breezy, easy swinging rendition of Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile” and DiBlasio scats his butt off (sans horn) on a blazing “Bye Bye Blackbird,” in which he engages in some fierce, freewheeling exchanges of eights with pianist Ridl and drummer Miller. The title track is an evocative meditation in the vein of “A Love Supreme” with some particularly animated trumpet work by special guest George Rabbai. Jobim’s buoyant “One Note Samba” is a vehicle for DiBlasio’s virtuosic flute work and his fragile lullaby “Tell Me a Story,” sung by guest vocalist Suzanne Cloud, perfectly captures the wild fantasy mindset of toddlers in its psychedelic imagery.

A highlight of this excellent outing is a jaunty duet reading of “When the Saints Go Marchin’ In.” While DiBlasio plays this traditional ditty in a fairly straightforward manner, Ridl practically reinvents the tune with his inventive harmonic and rhythmic twists. His penchant for daring reharmonization on familiar themes is also played out on Fats Waller’s “Jitterbug Waltz.” Ridl’s playing thoughout this set, as well as sideman duties in Pat Martino’s working band over the past few years, marks him as an emerging talent deserving of wider recognition. DiBlasio has been on the scene a far longer time than Ridl but he too is definitely deserving of wider recognition.