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Breaking new ground; Jerry Sabatini and his three groups cross barriers.

Byline: Scott McLennan

Trumpet player Jerry Sabatini recently likened his work in the Sonic Explorers quintet, Iskar quartet and Roving Soul trio to tending a garden. Each band provides a unique opportunity, and all three combine nicely into a whole that reflects Sabatini's particular ideas about the way composition and improvisation work together.

Tomorrow, Sabatini will roam the entire landscape of his garden as he brings Sonic Explorers, Iskar and Roving Soul to the Joy of Music Program school in Worcester, where Sabatini teaches trumpet. The faculty recital begins at 7:30 p.m.

JOMP and Sabatini's musical projects have long enjoyed a relationship, as most of his current band mates also teach at the school. Guitarist Phil Sargent, who plays in the Sonic Explorers and Iskar, is the only non-JOMP musician involved in tomorrow's concert.

The Sonic Explorers will headline the concert and celebrate the release of its new album "Lore of the Land." On the scene since the mid-'90s, Sonic Explorers remains out front with a progressive and beguiling style of music that fuses experimental jazz and traditional ethnic folk-music styles. The band today consists of Sabatini, Sargent, trombone player Rich Ardizzone, drummer Mike Connors, and alternating bassists Greg Loughman (who will be playing with the band tomorrow) and John Funkhouser (who recorded the parts on "Lore of the Land").

Sabatini called Sonic Explorers the mother ship from which the other groups have launched. Iskar is the combination of Sabatini, Sargent, Loughman and Connors.

"I try to be more of a sideman in that and let Phil take over," Sabatini said, though all four in the group work on the band's original compositions. "The quartet is a more traditional band. But we are playing untraditional music."

Roving Soul is a trio composed of Sabatini, Loughman and sax player Chris Veilleux.

"This leans more toward the ethnic folk music," Sabatini said. "It's pretty moody, and the way we play, we have to be dead-on and real specific."

The way Sabatini described Roving Soul echoed some of the things he said about Sonic Explorers back when the band was just coming onto the scene. The idea then was to have a jazz band performing sophisticated compositions that smacked of improvisational energy. Balkan and Middle Eastern rhythms typically anchored the tunes and strongly shaped the band's musical identity.

On "Lore of the Land," Sonic Explorers has submerged its original influences into an even richer stew. Those exotic-sounding staples are now spread across sheets of funk and groove. The songs have inevitably taken on a more urban feel, though old-world influences still linger and lurk in the background of this imaginative musical playground.

Sabatini explained how some new factors contributed to the expanded sound heard on Sonic Explorers' fourth album (which is available online via

First, bringing some new faces on board prompted Sabatini to write tunes that would be open to some jamming and improvisation. That way he could let the strengths of each player naturally rise in the mix.

Further, he started to rethink the dynamics of improvisation.

"Improvisation is composition in real time. I may be writing down less, but I feel like it is just an extension of formal composition," he said (noting that all involved have likewise matured enough in their playing to pull off strong improvisations that do not simply meander).

Sabatini is serious about his draw to "real time composition," so much so that he is in the midst of earning a master's degree in contemporary improvisation from the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. Working at the conservatory has also broadened his global outlook. He has developed a particularly strong interest in Indonesian gamelan and jaipong styles of music. Throw in some deep love of Ornette Coleman and Miles Davis (not to mention a wicked devotion to Frank Zappa), and it seems Sabatini is destined to keep Sonic Explorers true to its name for years to come.

Scott McLennan can be reached at


Sonic Explorers, Iskar and Roving Soul

When: 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. tomorrow

Where: Joy of Music Program recital hall, 1 Gorham St., Worcester

How much: $10; $7 for students and seniors



CUTLINE: (1) The Roving Soul Trio: Chris Veilleux, left, Jerry Sabatini, center, and Greg Loughman. (2) Jerry Sabatini leads the Sonic Explorers at Mechanics Hall.

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Title Annotation:LIVING
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Dec 13, 2007
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