Mike Melito’s influences sing from his snare drum and ride cymbal throughout his debut as a leader, THE NEXT STEP. There is an amusing anecdote recounted in the liner notes. It goes something like this: A drummer arrives at a session and asks Rudy Van Gelder if he can make him sound like Philly Joe Jones, to which Van Gelder replies: “Sure, but can you play like Philly Joe?”
To say that Mike Melito is copying Philly Joe Jones would do him a disservice. Yet so would not mentioning the obvious influence. Melito’s snare drum comping and solos conjure up images of the great Philly Joe Jones, highly regarded and quite possibly the single most recorded sideman jazz drummer. Also, present in Melito’s warm and swinging style is Art Blakey. Like Blakey, Melito prefers to rely heavily on a strong backbeat accent-not always implicitly stated, but always felt. To this stable foundation, Melito adds the wealth of influences that only today’s contemporary drummers can. Put it all together and it ends up sounding like the unique take on a proven formula for swinging success that it is.
Pianist Dino Losito opens the album with his original tune from which the release takes its name. “The Next Step” is a medium swing tune. From trumpeter Joe Magnarelli comes “Bella Carolina” a bossa-nova with a tasty Melito drum intro. Bassist Neal Miner contributes “Blues For Red and Brown,” a medium blues. Also included is a faithful-to-the-original rendition of Dexter Gordon’s ” I Want More,” as well as standards such as “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” and “You Don’t Know What Love Is.”
Melito avoids egotistically filling the album with drum solos. Rather, he takes two extended solos. While the solo on “I Want More” (as well as the choruses of traded eights on “I Wish I Knew” ) is clearly reminiscent of Philly Joe Jones, the solo most inspired by Miles’ favorite drummer appears on the burning rendition of “You Don’t Know What Love Is.” listen to this solo side by side with Philly Joe’s solo on ” Salt Peanuts” from Relaxin’ with the Miles Davis Quintet and you’ll hear a startling similarity. The beauty of Philly Joe’s playing lies largely in his phrasing, the way he strung together a relatively limited amount of “licks.” It is this phrasing (as well as a few licks) that Melito uses so effectively in his own playing and timekeeping.
The Next Step is definitely a release for lovers of hardbop. You’ll find an excellent contemporary drummer with clearly defined roots that in no way prevent him from attaining an individual sound on the instrument.
THE NEXT STEP
Personnel: Joe Magnarelli, Trumpet; Grant Stewart, tenor; Dino Losito, piano; Neal Miner, bass ; Mike Melito, drums