Michael Occhipinti - The Sicilian Jazz Project

The newest project put together by 2008 JUNO Award nominee Michael Occhipinti, The ensemble features some of Canada’s finest musicians, including Roberto Occhipinti on bass, Ernie Tollar on flute/saxophones, Dominic Mancuso on vocals and guitar, Kevin Turcotte on trumpet, Louis Simao on accordion, Barry Romberg on drums, and Michael Occhipinti on acoustic and electric guitars, with vocalist Maryem Tollar, violinist Hugh Marsh and a string quartet all featured on the group’s new CD as well. As with his Juno Award nominated CD Creation Dream, which explored the songs of Bruce Cockburn from a jazz musician’s point of view, The Sicilian Jazz Project has Michael reshaping the traditional folk music of Sicily.

In 1954 ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax toured Sicily, recording traditional folk music performed by diverse individuals including sulfur miners, tuna fishermen, a donkey cart driver, and assorted peasants and folk entertainers. Many of these raw field recordings form the basis of The Sicilian Jazz Project’s repertoire, along with traditional dances and ballads gleaned from Michael and Roberto’s cousins in Sicily. As the band’s arranger, Michael Occhipinti has reinvented the music in imaginative ways that nevertheless capture the original emotions behind the songs and the result is a passionate instrumental and vocal repertoire that makes reference to many genres and resonates with listeners.

The talented individuals who make up the group have experience in jazz, classical, Arabic, Cuban, Brazilian, and Italian popular music. In inventing new ways of experiencing the source music, Michael uses the eclecticism of the ensemble as a great asset and freely blends Sicilian music with global rhythms and a variety of modern approaches to the music. Michael also incorporates his own unabashed love of electric guitar sounds.

Michael Occhipinti released The Sicilian Jazz Project in Canada in June of 2008, and the group’s Canadian festival tour yielded many stellar reviews. The CD will be released worldwide in early 2009, and Michael and the group have already been invited to perform in Italy, Australia, Mexico, and the United States.

"The Sicilian Jazz Project is an astonishingly salient new sound in the jazz spectrum"

Stephen Pedersen – Halifax Chronicle Herald

"Occhipinti’s re-imaginings don’t sound like pure Sicilian music, nor are they intended to. Instead, they’re the sound of a musician who knows where he came from and where he’s going – and that’s a beautiful thing."

Alex Vary - The Georgia Straight (Vancouver)

"Michael Occhipinti's Sicilian Jazz Project was a winning sextet with exotic ethno-musical influences from Sicily and the Mediterranean stitched to contemporary jazz inventions, rousing a Thursday crowd at the Yardbird. With Occhipinti's wonderful arrangements, it was beautifully rendered with the soulful vocal of Dominic Mancuso and a band of Toronto's best (including trumpeter Kevin Turcotte and drummer Barry Romberg). Sicilian yes, but ultimately Canadian."

Roger Levesque – Edmonton Journal