Michael Occhipinti

 A seven-time Juno Award nominee for Best Contemporary Jazz Album (including 2008 for Chasing After Light), guitarist/composer Michael Occhipinti’s modern and eclectic approach to jazz and creative music of all kinds has earned him a broad array of listeners and the respect of critics and musicians alike. His newest CD The Sicilian Jazz Project (visit  www.thesicilianjazzproject.com) has received great reviews since its Canadian release in the summer of 2008, and the recording will be released world-wide on February 15, 2009. Starting with field recordings of Sicilian folk music that musicologist Alan Lomax made in 1954 and reinterpreting the music as a mix of global grooves, modern jazz, and even chamber music, Michael’s Sicilian Jazz Project performed at jazz festivals across Canada in 2008 and the group has already been invited to Australia, the U.S. and Italy in 2009.
Michael Occhipinti continues to get attention for his JUNO nominated recording Creation Dream – The Songs of Bruce Cockburn (True North/Universal/Rounder) which featured Michael’s ambitious arrangements of music by one of Canada’s best-loved songwriters. In an October 2008 article on its web page, National Public Radio in the U.S. named Creation Dream as one of six Canadian CDs (alongside piano genius Glenn Gould) Americans should get to know. Recasting Cockburn’s songs in a fresh and creative setting, the recording featured renowned clarinetist Don Byron, and Michael’s quintet with trumpeter Kevin Turcotte, violinist Hugh Marsh, drummer Barry Romberg, and bassist Andrew Downing. The disc also featured a guest appearance by Bruce Cockburn himself on guitar, who has named the CD as his favourite interpretation of his music.
Chasing After Light, Michael’s follow-up to Creation Dream was released in 2007 and was nominated for a JUNO Award in 2008. Featuring the same stellar quintet of musicians heard on Creation Dream, plus Michael’s brother Roberto as a guest on bass, this new recording showcased Michael’s melodic and memorable original compositions and a broad palette of guitar sounds. As with much of Michael’s work, it manages the delicate act of referencing different genres while nevertheless sounding like a cohesive work.
‘Anyone who has seen me play live or heard my work with my big band NOJO knows that I love to experiment with different guitar sounds and effects and play many genres of music. There are a lot of different influences and moods on this recording, and I wanted to draw on the many guitar sounds I use to compliment that variety. A lot of my reputation has been built on my work with NOJO, where we freely incorporate different styles and approaches, but that band has always had its own sound because of the character of the writing and arranging. I’ve tried to do the same with both The Sicilian Jazz Project and Chasing After Light, referencing folk, world music, and popular North American music, but with an adventurous and modern focus.’
Formed in 1994 with pianist/composer Paul Neufeld, NOJO boldly draws on an array of influences, including African music, early blues, modern concert music, funk, reggae, and a century of jazz, yet the group’s recordings reveal an original and distinct sound. The Los Angeles Times calls NOJO ‘one of the most imaginative large ensembles on the current jazz scene,’ and the band’s music has intrigued its many guest soloists including sax great Joe Lovano, trombonist Ray Anderson, trumpeter Kenny Wheeler, and most notably clarinetist Don Byron and saxophone giant Sam Rivers, both of whom have recorded and toured with the ensemble. NOJO and Don Byron have performed at the Umbria Jazz Winter Festival in Orvieto, Italy, at the Stranger Than Paranoia Festival in the Netherlands, and at the Festival International de Jazz de Montreal, and NOJO toured Canada with Sam Rivers in 2003.
Michael Occhipinti has been profiled on Bravo!’s Arts and Minds, CBC television’s On The Arts, CBC radio’s On Stage and JazzBeat and TV Ontario’s Studio 2. Michael’s newest undertaking is The Sicilian Jazz Project, for which he is is taking Sicilian folk music, often from field recordings done by musicologist Alan Lomax in the 1950’s, and arranging it for his new sextet. The group has nearly completed recording its debut CD, which will be released in the spring of 2008, and will be touring Canada’s jazz festivals this summer with a lineup that includes Ernie Tollar on flute and saxophones, Kevin Turcotte on trumpet, Louis Simao on bass and accordion, Dominic Mancuso on vocals, acoustic guitar, percussion and bass, and Barry Romberg on drums.