A dark vision of the world and this time is, perhaps, the most accurate one today. So when an account of artists’ contributions to raising the world’s level of awareness is written, bassist Roberto Occhipinti’s fine A Bend in the River will rank as one with the clearest reflection of that vision. Of course none of this means that the record is not infinitely enjoyable. It is played in a continuously evolving idiom and, indeed, reveals something fascinatingly new with every listen.
Occhipinti is a composer of exceptional brilliance. He has a flair for narrative and a rare genius for infusing his musical stories with an almost Conradian gift of dynamic tension. As a gifted and thoughtful musician whose music inhabits a larger canvas in a painterly manner, he also has an absolute mastery of tonal color. His bass playing leans heavily into the ocean of European ideas—like bassists such as Javier Colina—and swings with erudite masculinity. These attractive characteristics are displayed on A Bend in the River.
The record, in seven tracks, presents a dramatic sonic feast for the senses. It opens with canonic strings layered con arco to reveal “Umbria,” a composition that is a tantalizing musical adventure. It’s as if the music undulates through il cuor verde d’Italia, sweeping with circular ferocity in its utterly contemporary jazz idiom. The seven-piece ensemble—four strings, reeds, woodwinds and brass—is a perfect foil for the core quartet of Luis Deniz, whose brilliant alto saxophone lights up every work on the record, the ever-insightful David Virelles on piano and the magnificent Dafnis Prieto on drums.
But it is “A Bend in the River” that defines the vision of the record. A dark, iconic piece, it recalls two literary predecessors that explore, literally, the heart of darkness at the confluence of the ancient and the modern. The river motif is superbly described by the ebb and flow of the harmonics, driven by the quartet and elevated by the Globalis Orchestra’s moving tonal colors. The rhythmic motif, especially in the rumbling tympani sequences by drummer Tony Allen, is deeply African. This is the moving centerpiece of the record. The brisk “That’s That,” puckish “Chamacos” and severe yet gorgeous “Garotte” all enrich the CD. Coltrane’s “Naima” stands out and is the only track where the bassist asserts his virtuosity. This version transposes ‘Trane’s saxophone to the bass in the same fashion as Mingus did on “In a Sentimental Mood,” which opened his tribute to Ellington at the legendary Monterey performance of 1964.
Deniz’s “Marta,” a tender tribute to his mother, brings the record to a close and is a kind of bookend for “Naima.” Here, too, Deniz acquits himself with grace and immense virtuosity. His is the solo voice of the record and shapes much of the narrative of this memorable project.
Raul D’Gama Rose February 15, 2009 – ALL ABOUT JAZZ