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The Sicilian Jazz Project Sizzles and L'Orkestre Des Pas Perdus Romp, Romp, Romps the Tent 

So you're sitting around wonderin' - ice tea or a cold beer near at hand. Not about how in Zog's name you're ever gonna pack iPhone heat and still afford to eat regularly. Naw. More outside stuff. Like, suppose Gil Evans, the late great musical genius arranger/composer who sired the Birth of the Cool for Miles Davis, got hold of musicologist Alan Lomax field recordings of old Sicilian folk songs that were wildly popular fare at weddings, dances and parties and worked his magic on them. What would they have sounded like reshaped for a cool modern Canadian jazz band? Last night in the Jazz Tent, Michael Occhipinti's Sicilian Jazz Project came oh-so close to providing the definitive answer.

First. A great entrance. In single file, the band strode on stage from the wings singing a folk song acappella. In position, instruments at the ready, the players were introduced in song. Barry Romberg on drums, RobertoOcchipinti (Michael's brother) - bass, Louis Simao - accordion, Ernie Tollar - saxophones and flutes, Dominic Mancuso - vocals, percussion, mini-bass, and Michael Occhipinti on electric guitar. M. Occhipinti, slight, dapper, somewhat owlish behind large frame glasses, looked open, friendly and relaxed in a light blue short-sleeved shirt, pale gray slacks and a dark cloth cap. It bespoke of a good time vibe. The opening number, a tuna fishing song no less, set the tone and flavour for the rest of the exceptionally enjoyable set. Some fishing trip. Romberg's rippling assertive drumming and Roberto Occhipinti's crisp fast-fingered bass lines were less suggestive of a heavy diesel fishing smack engine than a finely-tuned powerplant beneath the hood of a sweet ride Lamborghini. Indeed when the band grooved with smooth, pulse-riffling, sophisticated ensemble playing, it was like we listeners were carefreely zoom-zoom-zooming along a twisting country road on a warm sunny day in an expensive Italian sports car with the top down, man. Lovely feature. The light baritone singing of Dominic Mancuso - lusty, emotive, freighted with passionate sincerity, lifted the folk tunes high up into the thrilling zone. The instrumentalists framed his vocalizing with stellar work on accordion, wooden flutes, soprano sax and smoothly crafted lyricism on the guitar. Solos sparked awe. Fiery licks, assertive ostinatos (short repeated melodic phrases) and luminous dynamics wowed the crowd who might never have imagined how simple Sicilian folk sngs could have been unconventionally reimagined into such hip and exciting musicality. In light of last night's performance, all that's left to say is: Michael Occhipinti, that's some una sola visione estatica.

Completing the double bill was Montreal's mad-funster band L'Orkestre Des Pas Perdus (The Lost Steps Orchestra). The 9-piece outfit, 8 horns and drums, has been for 15 years, the brainchild of trombonist and composer Claude St-Jean, a diminutive pistol of a guy who must possess the creative impulse of the slapstick Keystone Kops doing battle with a fire-alarm fire. Each of St-Jean's wacko compositions are full-throttle funk, ska, ska funk - at warp speed, Scottie, swingtime java jive , two-step brassband B-movie soundtrack motifs. Or, failing that, spunky Euro-circus musique. For reference points, think Frank Zappa, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band of Noo 'Awlins, flip-wiggy Carla Bley jazz compositions, British ska band of the 1970s One Step Beyond, a touch of Fellini's favourite movie composer, Nino Rota and the wild music of Raymond Scott - whose compositions (like the instantly recognizable Powerhouse) provided the backbone for Carl Stallings' Warner Brothers cartoon scores. Bugs Bunny. Daffy Duck. Et al.

Often bobbing on his toes like a bantam-weight boxer, St-Jean led the group of baritone sax, French horn, soprano sax, tenor sax, alto sax, trumpet, sousaphone (like a serpentine tuba whose bell flutes upward above the player's head), drums, and St-Jean himself on trombone, through a frenetic set of tightly arranged and performed, accessibly demented numbers that had the audience leg pumping, shoulder rolling and foot tapping like Mexican Jumping Beans, volcanic to bursting in hot sauce, hypered on uppers. Fabulous fun. And healthy too. Personally speaking, I dropped, gotta be 15 pounds, merely listening and taking notes.

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Vol 27, No 17
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