Saxophonist John Wojciechowski is an urban musician through and through. He grew up and developed his powerful tenor sound in Detroit—“a really rich community with a lot of great players,” he says—and since 2002 has thrived in Chicago, working alongside some of the best players in the city.
So why does he live way the heck out in the Windy City’s western suburbs in a place called Bartlett—where it takes a good half-hour to even reach one of the highways leading into the city? And does being so far away from the action have an impact on his music?
The answer to the first question is that “Wojo,” as he is known, teaches high school in the historic river town of St. Charles—no doubt one of the only jazz musicians of his caliber who can make that claim.
The answer to the second question is that being out and away from all the noise and congestion isn’t such a bad thing for an artist. It helps you to . . . focus. It certainly helped Wojciechowski concentrate on the making of Focus, an impressive step up from his previous album, Lexicon, as good as it is.
Boasting seven strong original compositions, each one reflecting a different aspect of his style and personality, Focus is one of those supremely enjoyable albums that treats the mainstream not as a comfort zone but a central place from which to push stylistic boundaries and assert original ideas.
Backed by a remarkable, tightly knit unit including drummer Dana Hall, bassist Dennis Carroll, and pianist Ryan Cohan, Wojciechowski ranges from the earthy intensity of “Summon the Elders,” a spell-casting modal piece reminiscent of John Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders, to the bottom-up inventions of the title cut to the dancing 3/4 patterns of “Twirl,” on which he shows off his lyrical tenor saxophone sound.