A Band That's Big

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From a record label that is most familiar for its introduction of such folkies as Bruce Cockburn and Murray McLaughlin comes an impressive release from the Toronto area-based NOJO -- that's the Neufeld Occipinti Jazz Orchestra. NOJO is a 16-piece aggregation with one Juno -- you know, essentially Canada's Grammy -- and a Juno nomination under its belt from its previous two albums.

For its third release, Paul Neufeld and Michael Occipinti wanted to incorporate yet another -- 17th -- member into the group, American clarinetist Don Byron, whose work they had come to love. They felt that his musical spirit would fuse as an integral part of the orchestra. After the three struck up a friendship based on a mutual admiration of purpose, Byron was brought north of the border in 1997 to participate in the sessions for You Are Here. Far from being just a "guest artist," Byron would soon become an equal participant in the band, as well as making his mark with his own style.

"Grassfire" begins the set with an appropriately dynamic musical setting. From the start, Byron is right at home in the setting and his contributions accent the energy of the rest of the group which surrounds him.

Sometimes the sound is deceptively conservative until a guitar or other instrument creeps into the picture to pull the music toward the edge. "Days of Grass" is one such number.

At times, the influences of composers such as Frank Zappa and Julius Hemphill can be easily felt in the mix. And one can hardly ask for a better funk attack than that heard on "Ratted Out" and its follow-up, the Klezmer and funk-inspired "Hum Tag." "Luminescent" takes the group into territory which seems closer to Duke Ellington than anything else, but it incorporates its own twists and turns to provide another vision of such a musical portrait.

Over the course of its 13 tracks, You Are Here doesn't disappoint, and it covers a lot of ground without becoming unfocused.

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