The Rocco John group
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The Rocco John group

New York City, New York, United States | SELF

New York City, New York, United States | SELF
Band Jazz Avant-garde


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"Devotion review"

Rocco John Iacovone draws from a deep well for his musical inspiration, with sources as diverse as Eric Dolphy, JS Bach, Charlie Parker and Nadia Boulanger. These influences manifest themselves on Devotion, a pleasantly original quartet work composed and led by the talented and eclectic saxophonist, who blends these genres with skill and imagination.

On “Riffin for Eric” Iacovone blows his alto like a snake charmer playing the New Thing on this tribute to Eric Dolphy, while Michel Irwin wails on trumpet. Bassist Aaron Keane and drummer Dalius Naujokaitis aren’t sleep-inducing hypnotists timekeeping on auto-pilot; they create complex foundations for the soloists. “Bass Talk” could be described as hardbop free jazz, with splendidly raucous tandem work by Irwin and Iacovone on soprano. “Bach to Bird” is a wonderful mix of jazz and baroque elements that sounds like what Charlie Parker might have done had he lived a little longer. Iacovone captures Bird’s sound perfectly, with Nauokaitis’ dynamic drumming giving the song greater texture. Iacovone’s and Irwin’s dynamite countermelodies, and a daring trading of fours between Keane and Naujokaitis, highlight the dashing “Cy’Cology”.

“Devotion Suite” and “Freedom Theme” are the disc’s calling cards, ambitious extended works sharing the common bonds of classical symphonies and A Love Supreme. Each work moves between the brooding and upbeat, through layered trios, furious duets and thrashing drum solos, all performed seamlessly and faithful to Iacovone’s concepts of improvisational cohesion, dynamism and complexity. Despite all the influences, there is no shallow parroting here. Iacovone and crew are originals with important things to say musically. Devotion is a deep, stimulating conversation. –Terrell Holmes

- All About Jazz

"JazzChicago" Review by Brad Walseth February 2009

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, shriek and gibber to their hearts content. And in the end, everything old is made new again.

"BillBoard CD review"

Don't Wait Too Long, the debut release by The Rocco John Group, is an impressive offering by this steadily burning quartet of improvisers. Much of the excitement can be attributed to the originality inherent in the five compositions penned by its leader Rocco John Iacovone. The alto saxophonist adds a contemporary dimension to the approaches used by such altoists as Lee Konitz,Greg Osby, Eric Dolphy,Ornette Coleman,Charles McPherson. Rocco's atonal improvisations contain enough melodic content as to not remove the audience from the parallel moods and thoughts the musicians toss around and wring out. On the title track, which represents his ongoing philosophy, Rocco gets a richness of tone and clarity in the upper register that is not easy on this particular reed instrument. As the main sibling in his family of instruments -- (he also plays the soprano saxophone and piano) -- the altoist "doesn't wait too long" to attach his sound to some strong trumpet playing by Michael Irwin before the two of them have some fun at the bridge before the out chorus. As a tribute to one of Rocco's early influences -- Charles Mingus- the ensemble plays "Ming's Things" with the same intensity, swing and unvarnished feel that listeners still revere Mingus for. Rocco and Irwin brilliantly converse through melody lines and reach heights of true fire before bassist Aaron Keane takes a passionate solo that leads to a showcase of drummer Dalius Naujokaitis' unique vision. Overall, this recording is a testament to the high quality and experimentation that continues to attract new enthusiasts to the free jazz idiom. - Paula Edelstein

"ZZAJ Productions"

Zzaj Productions, Hawaii , review - November, 2007

The Rocco John Group - DON'T WAIT TOO LONG: Rocco John Iacovone's (all
original) alto sax work will please the ears of jazz aficionados the world
over, especially on driving tuneage like (my favorite on the CD) "Bicycle
For 2"! He's joined by Michael Irwin's trumpet, double bass by Aaron Keane
& drums/percussion by Dalius Naujokaltis - & not just "joined"... these
players are right on th' mark(s) together. Absolutely kickin', no
hesitation & high-energy all the way through the album. Another jumpin'
tune was track 8, "Cursory Rhyme"... the reeds & brass are in synch from the
opening note, & that bass/drum syncopation keeps the music at full-tilt...
I'm very much impressed, & you will be too if you cut your teeth on jazz
that doesn't compromise & allows no hint of "smooth" to creep in - ANYwhere!
A "way of life" is presented sonically - not that '30's "hep-cat stoned
be-bopper" thang, either - this has th' mellow parts, but it also has edges
that we all have to navigate on our journey! Very tasty jazz adventure that
gets a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED from us! Get more information about thegroup at
Dick Metcalf aka Rotcod Zzaj, Zzaj Productions - Dick Metcalf

"Landmark, San Francisco"

CD Review: Landmark SF Bay Area

Wait Too Long”
Having Just come in from a beautiful walk on a gorgeous
Sacramento morning, I am totally primed to hear the CD
“don’t wait too long” by the Rocco John Group. Some may
view the title as a warning, but to me it implies a philosophy
of optimism. “don’t wait too long” is a nine track offering
that runs a quick hour.
I really dig this disk. By the time “Bicycle for 2” comes
along at track number 6, you have already been convinced of
the quality of the musicianship; this quartet is full of heavy
hitters. Dalius Naujokaitis handles drums and percussion
with an authority that demands your attention and sets
up the dynamics and movement of the music showcasing
the efforts of his teammates. Aaron Keane on double bass
has many great moments on this disk, notably his work
throughout “Indigo Joe”.
Rocco John Iacovone leads the collaboration with his
Alto Sax. He plays with an air of confidence and experience
that seems to be devoid of ego. He’s the man and yet there
is plenty of room for everyone to shine. It is a pleasure to
witness the maturity in communication of great players
who have been together for a long time, and yet The Rocco
John Group is obviously still benefiting from having grown
recently from a trio to a quartet.
It would be hard to imagine this piece without
newcomer Michael Irwin on trumpet. He steps out with lines
that are honest and thoughtful while backing others with
stabs and textures that are solid and not overly predictable.
TheRocco John Group sounds tight and on their toes. I
can’t help but appreciate the balance of composition and
improvisation inherent in the material. The players move
from “in” to “out” with apparent effortlessness. They have
proven to the listener, that music can be both challenging
and accessible. While it’s easy to see that this disk will be
loved by most all Jazz fans, I believe “don’t wait too long” will
prove to be an enjoyable listen for music fans of all types.
-Frazier Osbourne
- Frazier Osbourne

"Jazz word review"

The Rocco John Group
Don’t Wait Too Long
Coca Productions No #
At a time when recent jazz school grads clutter their debut CDs with hastily written, so-called original tunes, Rocco John Iacovone must be commended for waiting three decades into his career before releasing an entire disc of originals.
More meaningfully, the nine compositions of the New York-based alto and soprano saxophonist are without exception memorable, providing plenty of musical meat, sinew and bone on which the veteran reedist and his young combo members can gnaw. Besides showcasing hitherto unheralded meaningful notation, the session confirms the adage that working groups sound best. Iacovone, bassist Aaron Keane and percussionist Dalius Naujokaitis have worked as a trio since 1997; trumpeter Michael Irwin, who joined them in 2006 also plays with Naujokaitis in drummer Kenny Wollenson’s band.
With a Master’s degree in composition, Iacovone, who also teaches jazz and jazz history, studied with fellow altoist Lee Konitz and played lead alto in tenor saxophonist Sam Rivers’ orchestra in the 1970s. Someone who slides easily from “in” to “out” when improvising, the saxophonist encourages audiences to actively listen. Besides regular gigs around New York, he plays further out – geographically at least. Every year since 1999 he travels to Alaska for a summer-long gig with a local keyboardist/bassist.
Back to the Apple though, this nine-track CD could serve as an object lesson in how to set up a professional recording date. Including only one semi-ballad, Iacovone keeps the tempos perambulating between allegro and andante. At the same time there’s an unfussy, relaxed feel to the set – moderato not agitato. Most of the rhythmic thrust rests on Keane’s shoulders, or more appropriately in his fingers, as most compositions are propelled by his walking bass line. He can also contribute proper melancholy arco lines as he demonstrates on “Bicycle for 2” one of the program’s stand-outs.
Put together with swaggering double counterpoint from the horns, each man plays a line that complements rather than mirrors the others. The piece also features the saxophonist’s freest playing of the date, as he lets loose with a flurry of emphasized tones that rest lightly on top of on hard-stopped bass lines. Irwin’s tongue slurs, wedded to Naujokaitis’ subtle drum pinging elaborate the theme still further, which leads to an interval of fluid overblowing from Iacovone. Although these split tones appear to cut off the tune in slowing diminuendo, a vamping, double speed chase chorus recaps the head – and the bicycle rushes to the finish line so quickly that its tires may be singed.
This sort of Freebop call-and-response characterizes other tracks, two of which are reminiscent of Charles Mingus’ work, although only one is named for him. “Ming’s Things” is more buoyant than most of the bassist’s work, though it does work off the sort of repetitive bass head Mingus favored. Adumbrated by decorative coloration from the trumpeter and ruffs and rebounds from the drummer, Iacovone is able to let loose with flutter tonguing and lower register reed biting.
“Indigo Joe” – perhaps a cousin of “Killer Joe” – is the other tune with Mingus echoes, though Keane’s high register slap bass line and the subsequent break down into the musicians trading fours and eights confirms its Freebop lineage. Also on show, nonetheless, is side-slipping layering which bring the tune out of the 1950s and into the 21st Century.
Not everything is perfect however. Keane, for instance, could have done a little less walking and a little more string exploring to loosen the tempos. Plus, despite a raspy texture in one instance and a series of well-shaped triplets elsewhere, Irwin seems confined to accompaniment not assertive soloing. Sympathetic coloration is good, but throughout too often it appears as if he’s merely playing “follow the leader”. Maybe that’s one of the drawbacks of being the new boy. - Jazz word

"Cadence review"

… it is this restless feeling that makes this record so worthwhile, particularly in the way in which the horns conduct an open dialogue against a brimming rhythm section, also seen on cookers like “Gentilesse” (with Iacovone sounding quite Konitz a la Braxton) or the pulsing “Cursory Rhyme”. A good dose of Blues sensibility also runs with the currents on tracks like the midtempo “Indigo Joe” and the (likely) Mingus-influenced “Ming’s things”. They also further show their expansive horizons with smoky balladry (Leticia”),odd-meter shifts (“Bicycle for two”) and slippery counter-point driven strutting (Don’t wait too long”). Surely passing under the radar, Rocco John Iacovone and his quartet deserve the attention of folks looking for creative improvised terrains with timekeeping sensibilities.
- Jay Collins


So much of the jazz on CDs these days sounds so much the same, that when a disc such as this one is released, on which the music clearly speaks with its own voice, one must take notice.

Saxophonist Rocco John has studied with Sam Rivers and Lee Konitz and his distinctly apparent ability to both compose and improvise in the Jazz idiom clearly reflects the lessons learned from these masters. Disc recommended.

-Russ Musto , All about Jazz New York - Russ Musto

"Jazz review"

The Rocco John Group are keepers of the improvisational flame, as evidenced by this exquisite performance piece.
- Mark E. Gallo

"MIDWEST RECORD review, Devotion"

This well rounded Big Apple sax man stops to take a breath along this
journey to tip his hat to the players the inspired him in the first place.
Playing with the style and smooth chops of a real vet, this is jazz you hear
in clubs off the beaten track that you almost hate to tell your friends
about so the place doesn¹t get over run with tourists. Nice, solid playing
is what¹s on tap here and this cat does it right.

Volume 32/Number 69
January 8, 2009


"Devotion" original CD
"Don't wait Too Long" original CD
available on cdbaby, itunes and digstation .



Rocco John studied privately with Lee Konitz. He and holds a BA and Master’s degree in Composition from Hunter College, where he studied under the direct disciples of Nadia Boulanger. He is the Founder and Artistic Director for COCA (Coalition of Creative Artists), an interdisciplinary, improvisational arts group based in NYC. In addition to composing and performing events with COCA, Rocco plays regularly in NYC with his band, the Rocco John Group. They have been playing together in NYC since 1997. He spends each summer in Alaska playing original and straight-ahead jazz with his duo group "Rare Form”, since 1999.

Rocco cut his teeth playing first Alto in Sam Rivers “Orchestral Explorations” at the Studio Rivbea during the “loft” years. He’s played with Karl Berger, Barry Atschul, the Jazz Composers Orchestra, Larry Grenadier and Phil Grenadier. His years of study with Lee Konitz, and training under Sam Rivers helped Rocco create a compositional and playing style that often reflects Lee’s emphasis on tasteful restraint combined with Sam’s sense of adventurous abstraction. Given his musical training, it is no surprise that Rocco’s music blurs the lines between “in” and “out” playing; creating a link between the two for the audience to follow. Audience participation is important to Rocco’s philosophy of sharing the sacred and universal aspect of music. He encourages his audience to be active listeners, and sometimes runs shows through COCA that encourage audience participation in multiple disciplines on a very tangible level.
In addition to performing and recording, Rocco is dedicated to the idea of strengthening the Jazz idiom by passing the music on to the next generation. To that end Rocco has spent years teaching Jazz has recently begun a Jazz residency project called the "World Village Jazz Orchestra", linking community Jazz residencies to each other across the globe.
Their 2007 release of originals, "don't wait too long" garnered impressive reviews and won three "best of 2007". Their latest release, "Devotion" is attracted instant attention by it's evolved melodic/improvisational original compositions.

"Devotion" liner notes, from the composer... This CD is a respectful nod honoring some of the Music
Masters I look up to. These are role models in music that have influenced my
thinking. I have learned much about music, life and truth from many of these
masters. We all benefit from their contributions. Riffin' for Eric was written for Eric Dolphy. Dolphy opened my ears and my mind to limitless possibilities. Cy-Cology comes from my experience listening to the Tristano-Konitz school of writing lines over standard changes. Bach-to-Bird: My formal training was with the Nadia Boulanger school of classically trained musicians at Hunter College in NYC. I’ve always made a connection between Bach and Bird regarding their improvisational thinking. Mischievous Mystic is a tribute to Monk. Once I heard him, things changed forever. Bass Talk was written in honor of the passing of Bassist Dennis Irwin.

The rest of the CD gets into an area influenced by the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, and the
quest for truth and Light. Freedom Theme refers to the freedom to be who you are. It sprung
from my thoughts about those tumultuous times. The piece has three movements. The first is a Sax/Drum duet, the second is trio settings, and the third is the whole ensemble. Dreams refers
to “crossing through the veil”; we all do it nightly. This spiritual connection is what music is
all about for me. That brings us to Devotion Suite and John Coltrane’s influence on me. This piece
is written in four movements. In Movement one: you become aware of your quest; Two: you
think you’ve got it all together; Three: you realize how much you don’t know; Four: the joy and fulfillment of the journey.

I don’t pretend to emulate any of these giants in any way. This album is a dedication,
a thanksgiving, a devotion. -Rocco John Iacovone

“Alto saxophonist Rocco John Iacovone studied with Lee Konitz and put in time with Sam Rivers. This explains the sense of having feet in both the outside and melodic camps... the group works cohesively and often mesmerizes in the process..”
- Mark Gallo, Jazz Review

Not one to rush into anything, Rocco waited a good long time before releasing his first CD of originals in 2007, “don’t wait too long”. It garnered critical acclaim, and there was a lot of conversation about the influence of his early training with Konitz and Rivers.
At times Rocco’s playing also hints at Ornette’s “playing clusters based on a tonal center.” Indeed, that tension between in and out playing is part of what drives Rocco’s work. In this latest CD “Devotion”, Rocco brings a third, more subtle aspect to the table: his classical training with the disciples of Nadia Boulanger. The result is a dynamic meld of contrasts into a unique personal voice.
There’s something to be said for putting in the time i