The Trinity Stage was set up in the centre of the Historic Distillery District, the old cobblestone road leads directly to the a large area fenced off and enclosing a covered stage at one end and a patio seating format out in front of the stage. The place was packed for the Sicilian Jazz Project with a large gathering surrounding the fenced off area enjoying the jazzed up Italian folk songs.
There are some great players in this band, from the leader Michael Occhipinti (guitar), brother Roberto (bass), Domenic Mancuso (vocals), Kevin Turcotte (trumpet), Barry Romberg (drums), Louis Simao (accordion) and Ernie Tollar saxophone. The band played traditional Sicilian folk songs "Nun ti lassu" (I Won’t Ever Leave You), "Ciuri Ciuri" (Flower), "Vitti ‘na crozza" as well as other folk like tunes that had strong world influences. The energy, passion and tradition of vocalist Mancuso pushed the audience to celebrate reminiscent of an Italian wedding. When you think of folk music you generally think laid back and easy going. Sicilian folk music is pumped up, with heart slashing melody, blazing horns, ripping guitar lines, jazzy accordion and double time rhythm that gets feet tapping and bodies in motion. A great set up for the indoor segment that was to follow.
The scheduled evening entertainment was billed as a fund raiser featuring the Mario Romano trio with guest artist Jane Bunnett. Mario Romano - piano, Vito Rezza - drums and Shelly Berger on bass. The drummer Vito Rezza was replaced by Mark Kelso.
As I waited for the show to begin I read the program and was interested to find out that Romano was in the first jazz program at York University in Toronto, over thirty years ago. He continues to be a huge jazz fan and when he found out that the Art of Jazz had financial difficulties he came to the rescue with connections to sponsorships and operating funds. Romano thereby virtually saved the fourth annual Art of Jazz Celebration. A jazz hero for our tough times.
Romano is an accomplished pianist, he held up his end of the playing with a solid groove and some studied chops. Kelso and Berger poured it on heavy in support. Jane Bunnett burned up the house with smokin’ soprano playing.
The songs that were played with plenty of inspiration included, the Beatles "Norwegian Wood", the Latin classic "Besame Mucho" with Shelly Berger opening a beautiful extended intro on bass with Flamenco flair, fluid phrasing and stirring dynamics, a high-light moment. The Bobby Gentry folk song "Ode To Billy Joe" was given a jazz flavored groove, with Jane Bunnett providing a lyrical flute solo.
A late night jam session was getting under way as I departed, an early morning was anticipated. The jam session participants included David Restivo (piano), Christine Jensen (saxophone), Jim Vivian (bass) and Alyssa Falk (drums), among others. I was looking forward to checking out David Restivo with his trio and guest artist Christine Jensen during their afternoon gig, more on that in the next report.