April 2007

April 9, 2007 Trane Studio Toronto
NOJO = Neufeld Occhipinti Jazz Orchestra
by David Fujino with photos by Mike Colyer

We're sitting there at Trane Studio, and true to his word, Michael Occhipinti "deconstructed" a traditional 6/8 Sicilian folk tune. He said he just "had to".

The piece was called, "Spider Bite" — a deconstructed tarantella performed as a slow drag by this 17-piece orchestra filled with some of Toronto's finest.

"Spider Bite" had surprising transitions.

At one point, a room-dominating mass of sound immediately cut to a pitch-sensitive duet between the bass clarinets of Sean O'Connor and Robert Stevenson.

When trumpeter Kevin Turcotte soloed, his downward-stepping blues deflations, flurries, and rhythmically arching lines ushered in a Vern Dorge soprano solo that proved to be oddly calming because of its persistent and unruffled sense of forethought.

NOJO displayed a tough, 'ironic'-mindedness in "Who's Bob?", an affectionate tribute to Bob Marley and his legendary status. We find a tuba bottom ... a chunky reggae beat ... the trumpets are high. A distorted electric guitar intervenes. Then it all starts to make sense in a brass proud way as two trombones and Doug Burrell's soft tuba played a slow, mellow hymn. The music shifted seamlessly to Dave Dulong playing on trumpet a reiterated and chaste 'Aaron Copland' melody. It then shifted to an emerging reggae beat that took the tune on out.

Occhipinti and Paul Neufeld clearly see a jazz orchestra in highly personal and creative terms. They're not doing Ellington, Basie, Woody Herman, etc., those assumed big band styles — with all due respect.

Or — as one of its musicians was overheard to say — NOJO's music is "unformatted". It wasn't like a lot of other big band gigs.

Now, while NOJO is a jazz orchestra, its compositions aren't orchestrated the usual way.

Instead of richly harmonized section writing, it was a spare, unison melody line of guitar/trumpet/trombones that began "Spider Bite".

Paul Neufeld

Michael Occhipinti

"The Pornographer" was a simple rhythm thing. A tune that grew from Neufeld's wah-wah piano sounds and the tuba's oom-pah-pahs into a rollicking Sean O'Connor baritone solo which then morphed nicely into a hard-angled solo from veteran trombonist Steve Donald. All of this was driven on by the sound of group hand claps.

In the case of Neufeld's "A Tranewreck", another 'ironic' tribute tune — a tribute to Trane Studio itself — the tune ended comically with the deflated sound of a fallaway, just like a collapsing train.

NOJO's music continually expressed the wit, intelligence, and creativity of its co-leaders, and it was beautifully vitalized by the sounds of its stellar soloists.

NOJO really satisfied.

The musicians
electric guitar — Michael Occhipinti
electric piano — Paul Neufeld
trumpets — David Buchbinder, Dave Dulong, Kevin Turcotte
tuba — Doug Burrell
trombones — Steve Donald, Scott Suttie, Gord Myers
reeds — Sean O'Connor, Patricia Wheeler, Vern Dorge, Andy Ballantyne,
Robert Stevenson, Scott Marshall
acoustic bass — Rob Clutton
drums — Barry Romberg
We welcome your comments and feedback
David Fujino
• • • • • •
Mike Colyer
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The Live Music Report

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