June 2006

Roberto Occhipinti Quintet
at the Toronto Jazz Festival
June 30, 2006Main StageToronto
Triumph in T.Dot
by Joyce Corbett with photos by Roger Humbert
From start to finish the Roberto Occhipinti Quintet’s performance was superlative. A few jokes about the World Cup, a little wave of the Italian flag from Roberto Occhipinti and the Quintet launched into "T.Dot", a tune Roberto Occhipinti wrote a few years ago dedicated to his hometown of Toronto. From the stage corner behind the kit, Dafnis Prieto impressed everyone right off the top, prompting many to ask, “Who is that drummer?”

Phil Dwyer took the first solo of the evening on tenor saxophone and kept everyone thrilled from there on in. He was in absolute top form and used his vast vocabulary to delight us. He played gorgeous mellow passages with a beautiful warm, clear tone and he played with unbridled passion, flipping rapid-fire series of notes into low gutsy growls. It was gripping. I don’t believe I’ve ever heard him play with such abandon.

Trumpet player Nick "Brownman" Ali, sitting beside me, was looking at Kevin Turcotte, “He’s really tired, he was in Vancouver yesterday”, he said. “I wonder how that’s going to affect his playing.” I looked at Kevin Turcotte. He sure did look tired. Did he sound it? Not in the least. He played a hot trumpet solo at the end of Phil Dwyer’s first solo, at least meeting the bar that had been set. And like Phil Dwyer, during the evening he played with a great breadth of feeling.

Of note was an especially beautiful flugelhorn solo in a tune named “The Island” (or something to that effect). Plump notes gracefully filled the air but this was softness with strength. There were well-placed dynamic accents and rhythm in the turns as the solo flowed along, finishing with a well-controlled flutter. “He’s doing things I’ve never heard him do before,” said Brownman, flexing his fingers to the sounds.

Roberto had introduced that piece with a very fine bass solo but just as interesting was the bass solo he played off the end of that Kevin Turcotte solo. Picking up a few notes from Kevin, Roberto Occhipinti played melodically, after a while nodding to Phil Dwyer and Kevin Turcotte who started blowing, ever so softly, adding extra colour to the solo.

Roberto Occhipinti
But, back to the first tune and the third solo. The minimum requirements for the night’s playing had been set and set high. As Hilario Duran taxied to the runway behind the piano, Phil Dwyer was laughing and giving Hilario a look that seemed to be challenging him to go further, perhaps asking - are you going to blow me out of the water? Hilario was soon rocking the piano bench, and it wouldn’t be the last time we would see that on this night. This solo may have seemed impressive but it was just his little warm-up.

Dafnis’ first real kick at the can was next and he played with tremendous fluidity, looking calm and relaxed. As would be the case throughout the show, whenever the speed and complexity of his drumming increased and his hands and arms whirled like food in a blender, he continued to look relaxed and his smile just grew wider and wider. That high hat foot just kept pumping. When the set was over, I heard someone say “Whew, what a drummer! Watch out Horacio “El Negro” Hernandez”. Here comes the competition.

All the while, Roberto was busy holding down the fort, admirably, solid but never stolid, watching his composition, this creation of his, being played and played with, alive and imbued with the moment. These players know each other well and they are perfect for Roberto Occhipinti’s complex compositions and arrangements. Roberto loves unusual time signatures, changing them up in unexpected places, speeding and slowing tempos. His tunes contain elements of Cuban, Brazilian and other music from around the world, jazz of course and classical music, alone or in combination.
Dafnis Prieto
The Roberto Occhipinti Quintet played five tunes: “T.Dot”, “Mank”, “Maracatres” and “The Island”, ending with “Prietos”, another Roberto Occhipinti composition, this one dedicated to the drummer Dafnis Prietos. This was a great piece to storm out on. It started appropriately with a long and tremendously exciting drum solo punctuated by shouts from the audience. Hilario Duran played what I thought was his best solo of the night at the end of which, triumphant, he leaned far back on the piano bench, arms completely extended as the blistering horns signalled the solidly exciting Latin finish with climactic playing from everyone. It was ecstasy.

As soon as the Quintet finished, the audience rose en masse cheering. It was an exuberant and spontaneous reaction. The Roberto Occhipinti Quintet scored big. I have never seen such a reaction to an 'opening act', and a “local” one at that. Perhaps Toronto really is entering a new golden age of jazz.

Post-concert, time for Roberto to bask in success and relax with his colleagues, right? Time to take in Paquito D’Rivera’s show, right? Not exactly. It felt like history in the making when Paquito D’Rivera invited Roberto Occhipinti on stage for what was essentially a bass duet with Oscar Stagnaro. Paquito sat behind them on a chair, smiling. “Italy and Peru,” he said, “Basstronaut”.

Thanks Roberto, you and the quintet did T.Dot proud.

The Roberto Occhipinti Quintet
Roberto Occhipinti – bass
Hilario Duran – piano
Dafnis Prieto – drums
Phil Dwyer – saxophone
Kevin Turcotte – trumpet and flugelhorn


We welcome your comments and feedback
Joyce Corbett
• • • • • •
Roger Humbert
• •
The Live Music Report

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