Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Bobby Militello: Mellifluous, Melodic and Moving

© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“Militello’s inspired playing with Brubeck has established him as the new Paul Desmond.”
-Richard Cook & Brian Morton, The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed.

Bobby Militello must be some kind of saxophone player.

Until “The Old Indian’s” [Dave Brubeck’s name for himself] retirement from music performance at the end of 2011, Bobby had played alto saxophone in Dave’s Brubeck’s quartet for almost 30 years!

Dave asked Bobby to join his group in 1982 and aside from the longevity itself, Bobby followed in the footsteps of alto saxophonist Paul Desmond and baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan, two musicians who have achieved iconic stature in Jazz lore.

I first heard Bobby in the late 1970s when he played baritone saxophone and flute with trumpeter Maynard Ferguson’s orchestra.

A native New Yorker, Bobby was resident in Los Angeles for most of the decade of the 1980s which gave me an opportunity to hear him in a variety of settings including big bands led by drummer Chuck Flores, trumpeter Steve Huffsteter and pianist Bob Florence.

But hearing is one thing and listening closely is another and I really didn’t get a chance to dig into his playing until I stumbled upon copies of two CDs that Bobby co-produced for Positive Music after he moved back to Buffalo, New York in the early 1990’s

The recordings in question are Heart & Soul [PMD 78014-2] and Easy to Love: Dedicated to the City of Buffalo [PMD 78006-2].

Hammond B-3 organist Bobby Jones and drummer Bob Leatherbarrow are on both CDs while Jeff Jarvis makes the Easy to Love date on trumpet and flugelhorn.

Since I’m a sucker for organ-trio formats, I really dug into both of these albums and finally gained a deeper appreciation of what’s on offer in the music of Bobby Militello.

After repeated listening, I came away with an understanding of why Bobby’s been a favorite of Dave Brubeck’s for almost three decades, a period during which he put his own stamp on the legacy of Brubeck’s quartets.

In the parlance of the times, Militello is a monster saxophone player. He can do just anything on the instrument, but what he chooses to express is generally mellifluous, melodic and moving.

Bobby is what used to be referred to as a wailer: he just plants his feet and brings it. His solos are filled with outpourings of emotion.

On medium and up-tempo tunes, Bobby’s solos are hard-driving and intense; on ballads they are reflective and sensitive.

He plays with a firm melodic foundation and while he ventures off into occasional harmonic forays, Militello isn’t looking to be adventurous for the sake of impressing or exploring.

Along with more than a passing reference to the late alto saxophonist Bud Shank’s style, the alto sax sound of Lou Donaldson and Sonny Stitt come to mind while listening to Bobby’s music

Militello’s phrasing in primarily expressed in the language of bebop, but with doses of funk and fusion that serve to “spice-up” his music with numerous surprises. Your ears think that they know where the music is going, but Bobby often interjects “twists and turns” that keeps you continually engrossed in what he has to “say.”

Another engaging quality of Bobby playing is the smooth sound he produces, especially on alto saxophone.  Nothing harsh, nothing strained, nothing cacophonous, but rather, a tone that is mellifluous and mellow.

When you listen closely to Bobby Militello’s playing, it’s little wonder that Dave Brubeck has “kept him around” for almost 30 years.

See what you think while listening to this video tribute to Bobby which features him Graduation Day from his Heart & Soul CD along with Bobby Jones on Hammond B-3 organ and Bob Leatherbarrow on drums.