Winnipeg's Jazz Magazine

November/December 2013: Omer Avital

David Occhipinti: String Theory

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When you listen to David Occhipinti’s chamber ensemble, Camera, you’re in a landscape that’s unfamiliar but refreshing. The Toronto-based guitarist and composer folds together jazz and classical idioms to create music that’s both virtuosic and evocative. Occhipinti brings his touring ensemble to Eva Clare Hall at the
U of M for a noon-hour concert on November 6.

I’ve seen your new work with Camera described as “chamber jazz.” Can you describe it?

The music combines elements of chamber music and improvisation, but I don’t actually think of music as having borders or labels. I like the pictures of Earth that are taken from the moon, or from space, where we see a big planet with no borderlines of the countries. There actually are none—we’ve created them. I think of music as a whole thing, and we can take elements from different recordings, and scores, that have influenced us, to create our own musical world.

What instrumentation did you choose?

I wrote the guitar and string quartet pieces first. I found that string quartets can be a bit intimidating, considering all the great composers that have written quartets. When I chose the larger ensemble, I wanted to have a unique group of instruments that would help me feel a bit more liberated with my writing. I simply chose my favourite instruments, which happen to include: the marimba, viola, bassoon, clarinet, cello, violin and bass. I tour with a smaller ensemble: violin, bass, marimba, and bassoon/clarinet, and I play the guitar.

What classical and jazz elements are you most interested in exploring?

I love the drama in classical music, meaning the speeding up, slowing down, fermatas, thematic development and story-telling that happens in the music, and also the instrumental possibilities and the attention to detail and dynamics. I’ve tried to incorporate some of those elements in my music from the beginning, but the instrumentation is making it a bit more apparent now. I love improvising and connecting with other musicians, and playing jazz has definitely taught me to do that. I love jazz that is interactive, where the musicians are listening and connecting.

What relationship do you see between composition and improvisation?

I think most composers that played an instrument were probably improvisers. We read about legendary improvisations by Bach and Beethoven and Mozart.

When I teach improvising, I often talk about Bach. The voice leading and single note lines are so clear and perfect. I like to think that today there are more classical musicians who improvise, and more jazz musicians writing chamber music, so hopefully the lines are getting blurred, and it’s all just coming out as music.

Your most recent recording is called Camera. What meanings that title holds for you?

Camera, in Italian, means ‘chamber,’ so I thought it would be an appropriate title for the CD, and name for the ensemble. This is my take on chamber music. It’s not classical, and not jazz, but when people listen to it, I’m hoping to take them on a journey into my musical world.

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