Led by pianist-tubaist Paul Neufeld and guitarist-conductor Michael Occhipinti, the Toronto-based Neufeld/Occhipinti Jazz Orchestra (NOJO) has been wowing audiences up North for a decade now, but has received scant attention here in the States. City of Neighbourhoods
, the group's fourth recording and its first to get an American release, ought to change that. The ensemble, which has expanded as large as sixteen pieces, is down to a tight nonet this time around, but it's called in a ringer guest soloist from our side of the border: octogenarian jazz legend Sam Rivers, who brings his soprano and tenor saxophones and flute along for the ride.
The album is all Occhipinti and Neufeld originals (three by the former, four by the latter; they compose independently) and the music is wide-ranging, to say the least: African and Cuban rhythms share space with contemporary classical, country, funk and gospel influences; there's honky tonk and jump blues, echoes of Mingus and Ellington, Eastern scales, American grooves, driving horns and fuzz-tone guitar riffs. Obviously, this is a group with a sense of humor, but make no mistakethese are players with serious chops, as the mere presence of Rivers announces.
At 81, the maverick Riverswho, along with the vocalist Sheila Jordan, is probably the most ridiculously underappreciated jazz genius aliveis still performing at the top of his game, and his uncompromising commitment to the music lifts this record into the stratosphere. "The Glassblower," the penultimate cut, was written by Neufeld as a tribute to Rivers; and during the course of its eleven-and-a half minutes, the great man moves seamlessly between flute, soprano and tenor sax, giving what amounts to a jaw-dropping master class on all three axes in the process. It's the standout performance on a standout record.
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Personnel: Sam Rivers, Dan Bone, Sean O'Connor, Jason Logue, Kevin Turcotte, Scott Suttie, Roberto Occhipinti,
Barry Romberg, Michael Occhipinti, Paul Neufeld.