Canadian’s - guitarist Michael Occhipinti and pianist Paul Neufeld are well-known in their native homeland and now that American jazz label “Koch” has released, You Are There, the large ensemble, “NOJO” (Neufeld Occhipinti Jazz Orchestra) should soon be the recipients of some widespread attention with this fine release! An added bonus here is the appearance of clarinetist Don Byron who is the prime soloist throughout these thirteen Neufeld and Occhipinti compositions.
With the opener, “Grassfire” it becomes immediately apparent that this sixteen-piece orchestra performs with the flexibility and demeanor of a smaller modern jazz unit. Here, the band eschews convention as they provide the listener with multidimensional frameworks consisting of - sounds of triumph, African rhythms and flowing thematic developments along with Neufeld’s ethnic yet lyrical performances on accordion. However, Byron and soprano saxophonist Perry White heighten the intensity with loose yet sprightly interplay. The three-part, “Animal Farm” features Byron playfully tapping his keys amid sonorous themes, a funk/rock groove accelerated by Occhipinti’s rhythmic chord progressions, sinewy tenor sax soloing by Perry White, doses of whimsy and sinuous horn charts. While Byron also blows furious hard-edged lines on the brief yet lighthearted swing-tango piece titled, “Salmon Snacks”.
Occhipinti dedicates “Zawashorius” (Zawinul, Shorter, Pastorius) to – Weather Report – as the band molds this expansive and thoroughly memorable arrangement into the image and likeness of the time-honored fusion band, while they pursue flirtatious themes via heartfelt passages and hypnotic circular-like movements on “In Memoria”. Warm choruses and soft melodies prevail on Neufeld’s “Mainland” as trumpeter Kevin Turcotte accentuates the sublime decor with smooth lines as Byron’s husky bass clarinet counters the shifting melodies and ambient atmosphere yet engages in frisky dialogue with alto saxophonist Ernie Tollar. Hence, a persuasive and perhaps fitting climax to an altogether diverse outing. Basically, this recording should not go unnoticed by fans of Don Byron and modern day big band enthusiasts. (Strongly recommended)
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Don Byron; clarinet: Ernie Tollar; alto & soprano sax, flute: Dan Bone; alto sax, clarinet, bass clarinet, flute: Sean O