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Roberto Occhipinti: Yemaya

John Kelman By

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Roberto Occhipinti, a bassist who has comfortably straddled an increasingly tenuous line between classical and jazz worlds for many years, has become more ambitious in style and scope with each successive release. On Yemaya, the Toronto native ups the ante from his superb mini-big band release The Cusp (Modicamusic, 2003) by enlisting a string quartet, a host of percussionists and a full symphony orchestra to augment his core septet. Despite the emphasis on composition and arrangement, there's still plenty of solo space on this program, which combines music by Djavan and Jovino Santos-Neto, two traditional Cuban tunes, and originals by Occhipinti, tenor saxophonist Phil Dwyer and pianist Hilario Durán. The result is a potent blend of rhythm and texture.

As Santos-Neto's "Maracatres opens, Occhipinti warmly states the theme over a gentle wash of strings that would befit an Eberhard Weber record. But the tranquility doesn't last. Percussionist Manino Costa and Ernesto Simpson—who replaces the group's regular drummer, Dafnis Prieto, on three tracks—enter with a propulsive groove, setting the stage for Occhipinti's complex contrapuntal arrangement. After another brief solo from Occhipinti, things settle into a comfortable 6/8 samba that provides both Dwyer and Durán a chance to stretch.

Durán's discography may lean towards the Afro-Cuban side, but he's a broad-minded player. His "Herbie's Mood lends a contemporary nod to Hancock's classic The Prisoner (Blue Note, 1969). Dwyer, on the other hand, despite his more diverse exposure, remains more closely aligned with the Latin vibe of Yemaya. His "Bernardo's Tango has the same harmonic depth of Occhipinti's and Durán's writing—the kind of modernistic expansion of the Latin tradition that others like Miguel Zenón, Edward Simon and Luis Perdomo are currently exploring.

Occhipinti's two contributions are almost diametrically opposed. "Mank is a rhythmically knotty tune that, like "Maracatres, relies on complicated counterpoint to set the context for another powerful Dwyer solo. "El Otro Tipo feels more rhythmically straightforward; but by enlisting Moscow's Globalis Symphony Orchestra, it reveals Occhipinti's increasing skill with a larger sonic palette. This is no "jazz with strings project, but a fully integrated effort without clear demarcation. Kevin Turcotte delivers an almost painfully melancholy flugelhorn solo on Djavan's "A Ilha, supported by Occhipinti's ability to arrange lush strings without straying into saccharine sentimentality.

Like the title track, the traditional Cuban clave "Yambu adds vocals to the mix, further expanding Occhipinti's scope on an album that remains clearly focused. Yemaya—another reason for jazz fans from around the world to investigate Canada's jazz scene—is so fully realized that one wonders where Occhipinti will go next.


Track Listing: Maracatres; Mank; Yemaya; El Otro Tipo; A Ilha; The Shadow; Herbie's Mood; Bernardo's Tango; Yambu (for Pancho Quinto).

Personnel: Roberto Occhipinti: bass; Hilario Dur

Title: Yemaya | Year Released: 2006 | Record Label: Alma Records

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