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The Rocco John Group: Devotion (2009)

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The Rocco John Group: Devotion How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.

With his drifting tones and trilling bird calls, Rocco John Iacovone evokes saxophone greats including Eric Dolphy, Ornette Coleman, and Jackie McLean, and also suggests mentors Lee Konitz and Sam Rivers. All of these references used their distinct sounds to expand and reshape the musical conventions around them. With Devotion—his sixth album as leader and third with The Rocco John Group—Iacovone continues in their tradition.

The group also features Michael Irwin on trumpet, Aaron Keane on bass, and Dalius Naujokaitis on percussion, all four members tagging in and out of the music with deep attention to each other, their dynamics, and the feel of the music.

Naujokaitis cements them with a responsive, almost telepathic touch, while Keane lays steady, inventive groundwork. Irwin's alternately understated and explosive trumpet provides a perfect balance to the leader.

Iacovone, who also founded the Coalition of Creative Artists in New York with wife Denise, presides with a voice whose subtlety is not evident on first listen. He likes to squawk from time-to-time, but he will also sit ruminatively in the warm low register of his horn as others fill the space around him. This is the foundation of the album—give-and-take, ebb-and-flow, action and reaction.

These characteristics surface with compositions as diverse as the four=part "Devotion Suite." "Devotion Suite I" suggests a hypnotic Eastern prayer, led by the bass' simple, stretched-out groove. "Devotion Suite II" features tango-like horns that, after a smoldering statement by Iacovone's lone alto sax, explode into "Devotion Suite III" with a manic, Mingus-like blowout. "Devotion Suite IV" brings the suite to a bluesy end, with swinging bass and dark horns.

The album is made up of similarly diverse Iacovone originals. Within almost every tune, however, is a nod or glimpse of past greats. "Riffin' For Eric" features a grooving head which Dolphy would have loved to dig into, reaching an ecstatic crescendo as the horns join for unison solos.

"Cy-Cology," a nod to the Lee Konitz-Lennie Tristano connection, finds bending horns trading cool swinging dance lines, while "Bach to Bird" takes a playful classical melody and gives it a free-bop facelift. "Bass Talk" is dedicated to Irwin's late father Dennis, and features wonderful trumpet work encouraged by the drums, which rap out answering patterns to the rising brass.

On dark hued soprano, Iacovone leads Irwin through the meditative "Dreams," while Naujokaitis fills the space with soft drum pats, cymbal crashes, and tinkling bells. Between the winding horn lines and the atmospheric percussion, the tune suggests both John Coltrane's Indian mantras and Sun Ra's Egyptian mysteries. It's a hypnotic coda to an album that runs an emotional and spiritual gauntlet.

Perhaps because of this spiritual edge, Devotion seems more at home alongside stacks of '60s Blue Note LPs than on a CD rack or a computer's media player. It's an album in the tradition, full of chemistry and expression from four expert players who know their history.


Track Listing: Riffin' For Eric; Bass Talk; Bach to Bird; Cy-Cology; Devotion Suite I; Devotion Suite II And III; Devotion Suite IV; Michievous Mystic; Freedom Theme I And II; Freedom Theme III; Dreams.

Personnel: Rocco John Iacovone: alto and soprano saxophone; Michael Irwin: trumpet; Aaron Keane: bass; Dalius Naujokaitis: drums, percussion.

Record Label: Coalition of Creative Artists Productions

Style: Free Improv/Avant-Garde


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