In memory of Johnny Peret

In memory of Johnny Peret
In memory of my friend Johnny Peret, vibist, drummer, accordeonist extraordinaire

Saturday, February 5, 2011



I found this CD in a second-hand records shop in Toronto about ten years ago.  I didn't know anything about the band but a 16-pieces modern jazz orchestra seemed something worth investigating.  

If you like adventurous modern jazz orchestras that are not afraid of stretching the borders (think FlatEarth Society, UMO Jazz Orchestra, Either/Orchestra just to name a few...), you'll dig NOJO.

Despite its size, the 16-member Toronto based Neufeld-Occhipinti Jazz Orchestra, or NOJO, is not a typical big band by any stretch of the imagination. Likened more to avant-garde and free jazz artists like Henry Threadgill, Charles Mingus, and Thelonious Monk than to late jazz greats like Count Basie, Woody Herman, or Duke Ellington, the band is known for pushing the musical envelope with its visionary approach to sound and structure.

"Theirs is the most venturesome jazz orchestra in the city, if only for the example they take from writers such as Henry Threadgill and Kenny Wheeler and the influence they have found in the music of various African cultures," wrote jazz critic Mark Miller in the Globe and Mail. "It's tough, provocative jazz."

Formed in 1994 by York University classmates Paul Neufeld, a pianist, and Michael Occhipinti, a guitarist—both earned Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees from the university in 1992—the pair was seeking a suitable venue to showcase their skills as composers, honed in a jazz composition/arranging class with David Mott. Both played with smaller ensembles on their own—Occhipinti under his own name, and Neufeld with the Rhythm and Truth Brass Band, among others. To their surprise they found that a big band environment, although typically associated with oldstyle, swing jazz, was the perfect forum in which to combine their multi-layered compositions, which incorporate elements of world-beat, country, blues and experimental music in addition to jazz. "This band started as a workshop for our own material, and it continues to be the place where we teach ourselves and each other about writing music," Neufeld explained in Words & Music.

And that music, as some jazz musicians might say, is way out. "Neufeld and Occhipinti obviously enjoy being fractious and unpredictable, filling their compositions with lurching figures, curious turns and sudden developments that have the effect of keeping the musicians perpetually off-balance," Miller wrote in a 1997 review of one of the band's live performances.

While more established musicians were invited to give the group a try when Neufeld and Occhipinti began their venture, the pair ended up going with lesser-known artists to achieve their desired sound. "I think what works to our advantage is that there's a real youth factor to NOJO," Neufeld said. "There's an energy that comes from younger musicians and an open-mindedness that might not exist if we had some mainstream players."

That youth factor has created a sound which has garnered accolades practically from day one. NOJO's first album, which is self-titled, earned the 1995 Contemporary Jazz Album of the Year at the Juno Awards. 
"A lot of time has passed since the mainstream of jazz tradition was established," Neufeld said. "We both have strong feelings about jazz as a living tradition that's got to be relevant to what's happening now. We're not just looking to 1950s' Miles Davis as an inspiration—there are a lot of things that happened in the 1960s and 1970s that changed the way we look at music. It's important to take those things into account so the music's not a museum piece or treated like classical music."

"I love playing standards and I'm glad there are people who do it, but I'm also glad there are people doing newer things," Occhipinti added. "There are other jazz voices that need to be heard, and I think we're one of them."



1 Art of the Secret                          Occhipinti 10:16
2 Crime Fiction                                  Neufeld         10:17
3 Don't Hum (Slight Return)                  Occhipinti 11:42
4 Albert in Green                                  Neufeld           6:50
5 Warm Orange                                  Occhipinti 10:48
6 Somalia                                          Neufeld          7:04
7 MR.K.C. (For Keith Copeland)  Occhipinti   7:34
8 Moravagine (After Blais Cendrars)  Neufeld          8:32

Joe "Public" Allen   Flugelhorn, Soloist, Trumpet
Rob Clutton           Bass, Soloist
Colin Couch           Soloist, Tuba
Stephen Donald   Trombone
Jeff Elliot                  Assistant Engineer
Kenny Kirkwood  Sax (Baritone), Sax (Soprano), Shaker, Soloist, Triangle
David Mott         Conductor
Mike Murley         Sax (Soprano), Sax (Tenor), Soloist
Paul Neufeld         Fender Rhodes, Mixing, Piano
John Obercian         Drums, Soloist
Michael Occhipinti Guitar, Mixing, Photography, Soloist
Sean O'Connor        Clarinet, Flute, Sax (Soprano), Sax (Tenor), Soloist
Phil Strong        Mixing
Roy Styffe       Clarinet, Clarinet (Alto), Clarinet (Bass), Sax (Alto), Soloist
Scott Suttie      Euphonium, Soloist, Trombone (Bass)
Ernie Tollar      Flute, Sax (Alto), Sax (Soprano), Soloist
Kevin Turcotte      Flugelhorn, Soloist, Trumpet
André White      Engineer, Producer

Currently OOP.  Link in comments


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. fucking amazing! all songs are incredible. definitely worth a listening. great record

  3. Merci. I found this album quite interestingm which is why i posted it but on account of the very limited number of comments, I'm afraid it only makes two of us to have that opinion.

  4. you never know boogieman, I'm going to try it too, thanks

  5. hey boogieman, do u have any other album from nojo? it´s one of the best records i heard this year...

  6. Bonjour Michel,
    yes i have another album by NOJO, the excellent "You are Here" (1998) with Don Byron as guest soloist. It is still available from True North Records so I won't post it as my policy is to post only OOP albums (check: ).
    Thanks for your comment, I wish more people would take the time to listen to this beautiful album.

  7. very well. i´ll have to buy this record from true north (something i don´t do since 1800 hehe). one question: on their official site, there's nothing about this album on their discography. do u know why? see ya

  8. re-post
    i just hope more people will give a try this time.
    Just look at Michel's comments hereabove.
    Fabulous record.