Thursday, August 20, 2009

Roots: Occhipinti Style

Two of Canada's most creative musicians—Roberto and Michael Occhipinti—are heading to their parents' birthplace to receive the prestigious Regusani nel mondo Prize from the Sicilian province of Ragusa. Born in Toronto in 1955 and 1967 respectively, bassist/producer Roberto and guitarist Michael recently celebrated their Sicilian roots with Michael's Juno Award-nominated Sicilian Jazz Project, which Roberto produced and played on.

In addition to receiving the award, whose former recipients include actress Susan Sarandon, the brothers will perform music from the Sicilian Jazz Project in their parents' hometown of Modica. Their stonemason father, Giorgio, left Modica for Canada in 1952, and was joined by his wife Grace and children Peter and Joanne a year later.

My full biography of Roberto can be found here. Michael leads several bands and co-leads the Toronto-based big band NOJO.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


Has there been such a spate of notable music deaths in the past three decades? I can't recall such a bad spell.

Some deaths, like those of the great, underrated George Russell and earth-shaker Les Paul, were inevitable, but still memorable as they signaled the passing of talents the likes of which we won't see again.

Rashied Ali was a shock, all the more so because I was in the middle of reviewing his latest recording, a live set by his quintet from Finland's Tampere Music Happening. Like fellow drummers Chico Hamilton, Roy Haynes and Jimmy Cobb, Ali seemed to defy age. Unlike those peers, though, Ali could still rumble and roar for more than an hour without a break. That's just what he did the last time I saw him play live with Sonny Fortune, when they went at it non-stop for more than 80 minutes. Ali had a terrific sense of what to play, too, as displayed on this new disc, where his band extrapolates two compositions by James Blood Ulmer. Most people who went to see Ali might be expecting something by 'Trane, but Ali was too much his own man—too much in the moment—for that.