NOJO (Canada’s Neufeld / Occhipinti Jazz Orchestra) is back with its second engaging album of unclassifiable music, this time with poll–winning guest clarinetist / bass clarinetist Don Byron on hand to add his elliptical commentary. Whereas many undernourished ensembles exert every effort to sound larger than they are, NOJO’s seventeen members seem to go out of their way to emulate a much smaller group, seldom sounding like there are more than nine or ten sidemen playing at any one time. And while the over–all conception is ultramodern (some would say avant–garde), the music wouldn’t sound the least out of place in New Orleans; it is that well–grounded in Jazz tradition. In fact, the temperament is at times reminiscent of the Crescent City’s whimsical Dirty Dozen Brass Band. Byron, who adapts easily to any musical habitat, is comfortably at home in the ensemble or soloing (as he does on nine of the thirteen selections, all but the last — “Mainland” — on clarinet, that one on bass clarinet). Other featured soloists include co–leaders Michael Occhipinti (guitar) and Paul Neufeld (keyboards), tenor Perry White (“Ratted Out,” “In Memoria”), trombonist Don Laws (“Three Forks,” “Exhaust”), trumpeters Kevin Turcotte (“Days Like Grass,” “Exhaust”) and Lina Allemano (“In Memoria,” “Luminiscent”), bassist Rob Clutton (“Luminescent”), soprano Ernie Tollar and trumpeter Sandy Barter (“Road Hog”). Byron is showcased on “Hum Tag” and “Salmon Snacks.” Six of the largely unorthodox compositions are by Neufeld, the others by Occhipinti (including the three–movement “Animal Farm,” the first movement of which, “Gaggle,” uses instrumental contrivances to imitate the animals themselves). Byron shows consistently why he is so highly regarded by Jazz fans and critics alike, while NOJO shows it is an orchestra to be reckoned with in the widening arena of “new Jazz.” Yes, it’s an acquired taste, but not so uncommonly removed from Jazz’s mainstream that one may become irredeemably lost.
Track listing: Grassfire; Three Forks; Days Like Grass; Animal Farm (Gaggle, Ratted Out, Hum Tag); Luminiscent, for I.K.; Salmon Snacks; Zawashorius; Exhaust; In Memoria; Road Hog; Mainland (77:08).
Don Byron, guest soloist, clarinet, bass clarinet; Ernie Tollar, alto, soprano sax, flute; Dan Bone, alto sax, clarinet, bass clarinet, flute; Sean O