Roberto Occhipinti’s Nov. 1, 2016 release, Stabilimento (Italian for, “Establishment”), operates on a constantly moving conveyor belt of orchestral, global goodness. Small wonder, the Toronto-born bassist and composer put everything he loves in this staggered, nine-track album on his Modica Music label.
“I consider jazz to be the original world music. It’s an open platform — it can be whatever you want it to be,” Occhipinti said in a Dec. 14, 2009 interview with music writer Nicholas Jennings. “…Bass players make good producers, because their job is to tie into the larger picture and they wind up with a more holistic view of the music that they’re playing. Ultimately, it all comes back to playing the bass.”
The Canadian artist of Sicilian parents borrows from many influences to put forth orchestral instrumentals of his own making (six tracks) and those of composers he admires, including Wayne Shorter (“Penelope”) and Stevie Wonder (“Another Star”).
The points between Shorter’s jazz and Wonder’s R&B pop aren’t that far of a stretch in this bandleader’s experienced hands. For the award-winning Occhipinti is well-versed in a variety of styles and media, as a musician in opera and theatre, radio, TV, and film soundtracks. His score for the animated children’s show in Canada, “George Shrinks,” won a SOCAN composer’s award in 2006.
All that varied experience comes into play on this new record, which he produced and arranged, leading an orchestra of musicians on his Latin-flecked adventure.
There are a lot of talented musicians on this record, entire horn, drum, and string sections, like a proper jazz orchestra. They render the tunes with a laidback precision, over a beat that can’t sit still.
The opening number of “Tuareg” remains a stand-out. Inspired by the music of North Africa and the late double bassist Charles Mingus, the lofty tune gives saxophonists Tim Ries (Rolling Stones) and Luis Deniz (Rich Brown), pianist Manuel Valera, and revolutionary Cuban drummer Dafnis Prieto dense material to chew on.
The saxophonists do their thing, burning and grinding out melodic chunks, but are no match for Grammy-nominated pianist Valera. Valera collects their debris of truncated variation — as clouds would gather before the thunderstorm of Grammy-nominated Prieto (2011 MacArthur Fellowship Award), raining down his off-color backbeats. Valera and Prieto memorably combine as quite the force for this opening salvo, giving heft to the album’s volume.
When it’s time for a romantic ballad, the Stabilimento orchestra’s ready with a lustrous number such as “Dom De Illudir,” giving the horns their own bravado soliloquy.
Occhipinti’s “Trinacria” rises to the top, billowing on a surface groove of barely there tension set by the string and horn section, undercut on another Cuban treasure, Hilario Duran’s come-hither piano glances. “Trinacria” enjoys a new arrangement for this ensemble.