The Rocco John Group


Review by Brad Walseth

This release has been getting considerable airplay and deservedly so. A trumpet, sax, bass and drum quartet, the music herein harkens back to the great music of the '60s and '70s. Rocco John Iacovone plays hard edged alto and soprano with more than a touch of Coltrane. His songs reference a number of influences, including Trane, but also Eric Dolphy, Lee Konitz and Lennie Tristano, Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker and even J.S. Bach. Bassist Aaaron Keane and drummer/percussionist Dalius Naujokaitis provide muscular rhythmic support, while trumpeter Michael Irwin is the leader's main foil. Irwin is bassist Dennis Irwin's son, and Rocco even penned a bass-driven tribute to the beloved musician ("Bass Talk"), who passed away last year. Throughout, the focus and interconnectivity of the musicians is laser sharp.

"Riffin' for Eric" (Dolphy) is classic hard bop that sounds like a return to the early '60s, with Iacovone and Irwin trading lines. "Bach to Bird" merges Parker's bop with the classicism of the father of Western music - showing how interconnected the music of the world really is. "Cy-Cology" is written over the chord changes of "All of Me" and pays tribute to Tristano and the composer's first teacher, Konitz. Meanwhile, "Mischievous Mystic" is a bluesy and satisfying tribute to the great Monk.

The centerpiece of the album are two suites. The "Devotion Suite" and "Freedom Theme" both call to mind Coltrane's 1960's work and hold up well in comparison, where lesser lights have failed. In fact, the strength of the compositions, combined with the dedication of the players to bring this harshly beautiful music to life, has obviously struck a chord with listeners. Somewhat surprising, and a bit inspirational as well, since neither Iacovone or Irwin restrain themselves by softening or smoothing their sound and fearlessly squeak, shreik and gibber to their hearts content. And in the end, everything old is made new again.

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