Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Bill O'Connell - Monk's Cha Cha on CD

I feel like it's been forever since I've blogged. I've just returned from the 2017 AXPONA Show in Chicago and trade shows traditionally take me out of the groove for at least a couple of weeks. Sometimes, and this is something I admit reluctantly, I even get tired of listening music and I need at least a few days of silence so that I can re-calibrate my ears.

This live solo piano CD from Bill O'Connell, Monk's Cha Cha, is therefore a soft landing, an easy way to assess the growing pile of review CDs and LPs without stressing out over deadlines and such. That's because O'Connell's playing can be lush and fluid like Bill Evans' playing. It just sort of flows over you and carries you along and fills your head full of intriguing yet sanguine ideas while it does so.

I'm not that familiar with Bill O'Connell's work--perhaps that's because this is his first solo piano recording as well as his first live recording. That's surprising since he's been playing professionally since 1977, starting off with the legendary Mongo Santamaria. He's played with Sonny Rollins, Gato Barbieri and Jerry Gonzalez as well. He's the real thing when it comes to jazz piano, and it seems to be a bit of a mystery in the industry as to why his recorded output is so limited. This recording, live from the Carnegie-Farian Room in Nyack, mixes standards with originals and cements his reputation among his fellow musicians as not only a strong composer but a pianist who masters the worlds of Latin jazz and bebop with equal grace and authority.

These Latin influences are one of the things that separates O'Connell's playing from Evans, however. Those jagged and dynamic rhythms are very much established in the music, even without percussion. But O'Connell possesses the same ability as Evans to produce a lot of notes in seamless and sinewy tangents. You'll definitely hear those wondrous cadences in tunes such as Santamaria's "Afro Blue" and Jobim's "Dindi."

I'm too exhausted right now to come up with vivid new ways to describe a solo piano recording. The parallels between O'Connell and Evans may be more elusive to you than me at this point. But what a recording like this does for my sanity cannot be underestimated--beautiful playing that gently prowls between genres without gaudy alerts announcing its intentions. It is a perfect tonic for right now.

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