There aren’t any jazz-rock fusion or hip-hop-jazz mash-ups on an album by drummer Mike Melito. He is a jazz purist. So it’s not surprising that his eighth album, aptly named “To Swing Is The Thing,” is composed of jazz classics and less familiar tunes worthy of elevation. And yes, it swings from start to finish.
Melito’s band features some of the top straight-ahead, hard-bop players on the scene: tenor saxophonist Grant Stewart, trumpeter Joe Magnarelli, pianist Jeb Patton and bassist Neal Miner. All of them take off on imaginative solos throughout the album. But Melito has no need for the pyrotechnics often displayed by drummers; he’s satisfied to enhance the music with superb playing.
Melito was raised on jazz. His late father, trumpeter Chris Melito, was friends with Bobby Hackett, Stan Getz, and other jazz giants. His older brothers are both professional musicians. As a teenager, Melito began to work with Rochester greats Joe Locke and Joe Romano. Since then, he’s played with Benny Golson, James Moody, and many others. Still a stalwart on the local scene, Melito has driven the rhythm at the Rochester International Jazz Festival’s jam sessions for 20 years.
The album contains some classic tunes, notably John Coltrane’s “Straight Street” and Thelonious Monk’s “Ruby My Dear,” both of which lend themselves to creative solos born of experience. But the disc also introduces listeners to tunes deserving of attention. “You Said It” and “Big Red,” both by Tommy Turrentine, and “A Bee Has Two Brains,” by Johnny Ellis, belong in the jazz canon. Melito also includes top-notch works by his bandmates: Minor’s “Locke Bop,” Magnarelli’s “Blue Key,” Stewart’s “Three For Carson” and Patton’s arrangement of Jerome Kern’s “Make Believe.”
The most unusual track is the band’s take on Billy Strayhorn’s “Lush Life,” arranged by Osian Roberts. The song begins traditionally with Stewart and Magnarelli adhering closely to the melody for the first two verses. Then it suddenly shifts into double time, transforming into a swinging, up-tempo romp and reinforcing the album’s title.