Fresh Fun at the Franco
Eclectic quartet electrifies
Nick MacMahon, Staff
Illustraion by Ted Barker
David Occhipinti Quartet
Franco-Manitoban Cultural Centre, Oct 19th

Rather than hitting the lights, synchronizing the pyro with a low, meaty distorted guitar chord and drum fills galore, jazzers approach their intimate stage with a humble countenance, grateful that anyone wants to lend an ear to a grossly underappreciated art form. Such was the case with the David Occhipinti Quartet's engaging performance recently at the Franco-Manitoban Cultural Centre, as they brought a refreshing interpretation of jazz, evolving the musical genre.

Making their way onto the stage and settling into their instruments with some final adjustments to their tuning, the anticipation was riveting. Like a Native American rain dance, it was as if the musicians were attempting to influence the outcome of the evening through a ritualistic cradling of their instruments. I'm not a man of superstition, despite a clinging hope that there might be some order behind our seemingly meaningless existence, but I think these fellas might be on to something. That, or the success of the evening was due to years of finger-bleeding practice, spilling their blood for something greater than themselves.

Players with technical prowess are a dime a dozen on the jazz scene, but fortunately, this quartet is a group of real seekers. Although guitarist Occhipinti is the band leader, penning most of the tunes of the evening, he always left enough space for the other musicians to weave, sharing the spotlight and putting the emphasis on "quartet." Staying true to the melody and mood of each piece, they never tried to one up each other with flashier solos, as they prioritized musical conversation (the essence of jazz). Each soloist quoted elements of the previous solo, making direct rhythmic and melodic references - something any great jazzer aspires to. For example, during a playful, quirky trumpet solo by Kevin Turcotte, he was merely carrying on the playful theme established by Occhipinti's solo, which was, in turn, established by the mood of the piece itself, "Mars."

As a complement to their insightful musical interaction, their incredible group dynamics were phenomenal. Hushing to faint whispers on "Peace March," was such an impressive feat, especially on the part of veteran drummer Terry Clarke, that my nervous pen tapping nearly drowned out the group, which may have resulted in violent snarling from fellow jazz buffs around me. The dynamics were also evident in the contrasting pieces of the set list, from a dark tune reminiscent of director, Tim Burton's ghoulish tongue-in-cheek soundtracks (only with swing), to a throbbing disco monotonous bass-line intro on a tune that featured a baroque-influenced solo played by double bassist Andrew Downing.

Andrew Downing may have stolen the show with his impeccable intonation and his classical infused, "Bach-esque" improvisations, often taking a bow to his double bass, like a sensitive lumberjack sawing away with glee. Playing a beautiful, inspired solo with no backing band as a segueway to another tune, his "solo" solo was met with some of the most enthusiasm of the evening. A bonus for the evening, every member had equal opportunity to shine, each with "solo" solos as transitions between tunes in the first set. Although Turcotte and Clarke shined throughout, Occhipinti's solo was the most memorable.

Occhipinti didn't shy away from unconventional guitar techniques during his solos or in his rhythmic accompaniments. Plucked harmonics, evoking soothing bell-like tones on ode-to-baby-daughter ballad, "Sofia's Song," along with his finger-picked lush, dissonant chords both suggest some classical guitar influence. Embracing his folk influences, at times he was happy to accompany with basic, repetitive strumming patterns that may have caused jazz guitar snobs to cringe. In addition, he made use of some guitar effects pedals, notably a volume pedal, which was widely popularized by Canadian instrumental guitar wizard Dave Martone.

The pedal allowed Occhipinti to play chords that sounded like something between an experimental violin quartet and the LSD-induced ambient soundscapes on late-night radio. As a whole, his style has the fluidity of guitarist Allan Holdsworthand the choppiness of Larry Chryell's intervallic gymnastics.

Frantic shrieking and high-velocity anxiety were sorely missed in the well-crafted set, as most of the tunes opted for moderate tempos. This was a small price to pay, however, to hear some great Canadian musicians attempting to expand the concept of jazz, exploring the infinite possibilities that jazz has to offer for our new millennium.
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