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John Wojciechowski: Focus

Dan Bilawsky By

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Every now and then you encounter a musician who has it together in so many ways, yet has largely managed to avoid national recognition. Saxophonist John Wojciechowski is one such player.

While those with strong enough memories might recall that the Michigan-bred Wojciechowski took third place—behind Jon Gordon and Jimmy Greene—at the 1996 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Saxophone Competition, those same people may come up empty on this figure after that. But that's not because there's nothing to know. While Wojciechowski's leader discography is extremely slim, with Lexicon (Self Produced, 2009) as the only date to his name before this album, he's made his presence felt on a variety of recordings and in a variety of contexts both before and since relocating to the Chicago area in 2002.

Wojciechowski has become one of pianist Ryan Cohan's strongest allies, he's a key figure in the Chicago Jazz Orchestra, and his voice has been woven into the work of rising star pianist Jacob Sacks. And when he's not busy playing, he can stake claim to being one of the only world-class jazz musicians to maintain a steady high school teaching gig. He spends his days teaching music theory, directing the orchestra, and working with the jazz bands at St. Charles North High School, so it's no wonder that he hasn't had more time to focus on his own music and record under his own name. But focus he did when putting together this incredible program.

Focus finds Wojciechowski on top of the world. He's in great performing shape, his first-class writing is front-and-center for all to hear, and he's working with a killer quartet consisting of Cohan and the rhythm section from Lexicon—bassist Dennis Carroll and drummer Dana Hall. Everything is in its right place and the resultant music reflects that fact. Wojciechowski announces his arrival with the title track, a number notable for its off-beat eighth note piano riff, clattering and amped-up drumming, and solo-driven, rise-and-retreat intensity levels. From there, Hall takes the reins, turning a ceremonial tom solo into a call to arms on "Call Of The Kingdom." That solo miniature segues directly into "Summon The Elders," a bluesy and moody Cotrane-ish number with a sloping line in seven. Carroll grounds the music, Cohan and Wojciechowski deliver the goods, Hall hits hard with an Elvin Jones-meets-Jeff "Tain" Watts mindset, and lively 4/4 swing appears when you least expect it. It's an obvious highlight on an album with many.

A list of other standout performances would have to include "Elegy," a somewhat introspective piece honoring Wojciechowski's late father; a personalized take on Monk's "Evidence," working off of a 2-3 clave pattern and evolving into something swing-centric at its core; "Divided Man," reflecting the teaching-performing duality in the saxophonist's life; and a strong-minded, piano-less trio take on Dave Brubeck's "In Your Own Sweet Way." All of it adds up to one terrific listen. If this doesn't raise Wojciechowski's profile on the national scene, nothing will.


Track Listing: Focus; Call Of The Kingdom; Summon The Elders; Ternary; Elegy; Twirl; Evidence; Divided Man; The Listener; In Your Own Sweet Way.

Personnel: John Wojciechowski: soprano saxophone, alto saxophone, tenor saxophone; Ryan Cohan: piano, Fender Rhodes; Dennis Carroll: bass; Dana Hall: drums.

Title: Focus | Year Released: 2015 | Record Label: Origin Records

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