Not so long ago, Canadian jazz musicians would hire foreign stars to boost the market appeal of their recordings. Maybe it’s a sign of maturity that visiting foreigners figure as part of large ensembles, not marquee novelties, on two formidable new CDs. Toronto bassist Roberto Occhipinti leads a 13-piece ensemble on The Cusp (Modica Music, distributed by Fusion III); the standout performer is Cuban-born drummer Dafnis Prieto. Montreal saxophonist François Théberge fronts an 11-piece band on E/enar (Effendi), with two Frenchmen, Alain Jean-Marie on piano and Stéphane Belmondo on trumpet, providing poised ensemble and solo work.
But in each case, the bandleader’s writing is the real star. Occhipinti’s arrangements are bright and athletic. Théberge’s are dark and brooding. Neither, one suspects, would deny a stylistic debt to Gil Evans, the patron saint of composers for large jazz ensembles. Each album stands among the year’s best.
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