Thursday, May 10, 2018
Bill O'Connell's Jazz Latin
Man, I tell you...all this big band jazz has fried my brain. I'm not complaining by any means, since much of this music has been surprisingly great. It just seems as if my ears and my brain have become so used to the sound of big band jazz that this new release from keyboardist Bill O'Connell, Jazz Latin, sounds almost alien. This is the simple, intimate jazz I prefer in most cases--I love crawling up inside of the handful of instruments on stage and really digging out the details. You can't do that with big band jazz. It's all about riding that big sonic wave. This, however, is more my speed on a rainy day.
The word I'm looking for is refreshing. O'Connell plays his piano and Fender Rhodes in an unusually clear-headed way. He's on point with the melodies and he has a crisp and precise manner of improvising. You're not constantly wondering where he's going since he's a competent and affable guide. You can hear a little of Bill Evans in the way he glides up and down the keys. When he switches to his electric piano, he injects just the right amount of funk into the Latin-tinged excursions without spending too much time paying tribute to the past.
The core of this ensemble is a trio--O'Connell is joined by bassist Lincoln Goines and drummer Robby Ameen, who provide strong supports for the many guest stars including flugelhorn player Randy Brecker, sax player Craig Handy, trombone player Conrad Herwig, flutist Andrea Brachfeld and guitarist Dan Carillo. Goines' electric bass casts a unique sound for the trio and helps O'Connell to swing just a little harder, while Ameen is a madman and creates an ocean of percussive sounds that are essential to the conjuring of the necessary Latin connections.
I have reviewed Bill O'Connell before. I reviewed Monk's Cha Cha almost exactly one year ago. That was a solo piano album, recorded live, and yet I had almost the same responses to his performance--the Bill Evans comparison, the way he moves across the keyboard. I even used the same photo of him from the Google archives. That means just one thing, and it's a compliment about O'Connell's easily recognizable style. In jazz, that's an almost sure sign of greatness.