John Dimartino - Passion Flower
Review by Willard Manus

Pianist John DiMartino pays tribute to the music of Billy Strayhorn on PASSION FLOWER. DiMartino and his band-mates Eric Alexander, Boris Kozlo and Lewis Nash give such familiar Strayhorn compositions as "Isfahan," "Take the A Train" and "Chelsea Bridge" a fresh, modern sound. Singer Raul Midon joins the quartet on "Lush Life," delivering a warm, heartfelt version of the ballad.

DiMartino, who also produced and arranged PASSION FLOWER, has long been interested in Strayhorn's work. A relative gave him a recording of Chet Baker and Russ Freeman's version of "Lush Life"-- and ordered him to learn the tune. He was only fifteen at the time--ironically, the same age Strayhorn was when he composed the tune. "It's been on my mind all these years," said DiMartino.

There's a lot of straight-ahead playing on PASSION FLOWER, but its fourteen tracks also contain some musical surprises: "Star Crossed Lovers" played as a bossa nova, "Chelsea Bridge" as a bolero. Especially moving is DiMartino's interpretation of "Blood Count," the tune Strayhorn wrote in 1967 when he was in hospital dying of cancer. DiMartino and tenorman Eric Alexander capture the power, sadness and beauty of Strayhorn's final message.

(Gemini Music Co.)