It only takes one look at Roberto Occhipintis press photos to get a picture of his general demeanor. He is very serious and driven, almost intimidating to be around. His bass playing is confident, not one to sit back and accompany in the background he drives the music, interjecting and pushing his band members forward. This personality reflected in his approach to music led to a very successful CD release concert at the Rex last week.
Occhipintis newest CD is entitled A Bend in the River. Its his fourth release as a leader and his second on Alma records. The CD features a quartet rounded out by three young ridiculously talented Cuban musicians, two of whom are residents of Toronto; David Virelles on keys and Luis Deniz on alto sax, and one who resides in New York City; Dafnis Prieto on the drums.
Dafnis Prietos arrival in New York City has been described as an asteroid collision, his appearance at The Rex was no different. The audience was filled with drummers, most of the heaviest hitters in Toronto along with countless students and many of the musicians in the Toronto Latin music scene.
This band took no time warming up, they were hitting hard from the first tune. Prieto quickly showed what all the hype was about, sounding like a percolating pot ready to boil over at any second on the tune Umbria. His drumming is busy, full of polyrhythms seeming to come effortlessly from every limb. In the hands of most drummers this amount of technique would be dangerous as it can clutter the music; in Prietos hands it just makes the music stronger. Seeming to be a master orchestrator behind the kit he would play quietly with restraint when needed but would burst out with energy at the drop of a hat. Most importantly Prieto hooks up extremely well with the rest of the group.
His multilayered approach to rhythm matches up with Occhipintis big confident sound and driving pulse thats placed on the front of the beat. When these guys played swing, they played it with such thick groove and forward momentum that it was at times mesmerizing. Usually to hear a rhythm section playing jazz with this mastery of time feel, youd be paying per set with a two-drink minimum in a New York jazz club. When the grooves switched to Afro-Latin straight eights the band dug in at least as hard.
David Virelles sounded amazing as usual switching between piano and Fender Rhodes, frequently playing them both simultaneously. He is an inventive accompanist not afraid to use extended techniques like plucking or muting strings inside the piano. His solo on the title track to Occhipintis CD was a masterpiece, initially playing angular barrages of outside notes, he sounded like some type of super computer meets Cecil Taylor. After building up huge amounts of tension he broke into a sparse yet rhythmically driving montuno figure, resolving by morphing into a super funky Herbie Hancock like ending.
Having a rhythm section this inspiring brought the best out of alto saxophonist Luis Deniz. Deniz has a great sense of pacing and always takes his time building strong solos that start off restrained getting more and more intense every chorus. His sound is refreshingly clean, a nice balance between not being too sweet or too tart. His control of the saxophone is remarkable jumping from screaming altissimo climaxes to low angular punches. He sounded his most expressive on his original composition Marta written for and named after his mother.
The material of the night was all original music with the exception of a beautiful interpretation of the John Coltrane classic Naima. All the music was extremely strong and remarkable in scope, truly Pan-American. The aforementioned hard driving swing encompassing a large part of the jazz lineage, Puerto-Rican rhythms, Cuban grooves, and even a little bit of funky stuff was all played through the night. The finale was Occhipintis tune Trinacria, and what a way to end. This is a tune that implies complex rhythmic grid where rhythms in duple and triple meter are both played strongly, and hearing a drummer like Prieto play it will take you away. Seeming to play a different subdivision in every limb while improvising freely, he seemed to have the attention of every member of the audience, until an unnamed Peruvian percussionist started singing a coro that David Virelles quickly picked up and played on the keys. The group vamped out on the groove ending with explosive shots from Prieto.