How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.
With a full session of songs composed by the leader, this contemporary album features strings, percussion, and a large, swinging ensemble that's dedicated to the Latin feeling found in today's popular art form. Featured co-stars include tenor saxophonist Bob Malach and flutist Dave Valentin.
The pianist swings hard. As he steers his companions through formats that include duos, trios, quartets and quintets, Bill O'Connell caresses each melody with a dreamy focus for the more lyrical qualities found in Romantic classical music. With qualities that emulate those of a soulful singer, the pianist and his featured guests pour it on. Melody oozes like maple syrup and honey, dripping slowly and meaningfully. This fantasia on Latin themes eschews most traditional Afro-Cuban, Central, and South American elements in favor of European comments from the Romantic period. Thus, the appeal is to a more contemporary audience who appreciates smooth jazz as well as Latin backgrounds.
"6 for Claude," dedicated to Claude Debussy, features O'Connell and Malach in a sensual duet straight from the heart. Their outpouring turns vocal-like and presses forward with intensity. "Maybe Tomorrow" and "After the Dust Settled" roll along smoothly with visions of a lazy afternoon with nothing to do. Three songs, relying on smooth jazz for their piety, feature the full orchestra with flutist Valentin.
"Pogo Sticks" serves as the album's high point, with its contemporary jazz intensity. On this one, Malach and O'Connell work with bassist Charles Fambrough and drummer Steve Berrios to fire up the level a few notches. Together, they make a perfectly modern statement of where Latin jazz goes when it bonds with forward-leaning themes.
Track Listing: Barcelona; Fast Eddie; After the Dust Settled; Latin Jazz Fantasy; Maybe Tomorrow; Pogo Sticks; Laurie; Wind It Up; 6 for Claude; El Yunque.
Personnel: Bill O'Connell- piano; Bob Malach- tenor saxophone, clarinet; Dave Valentin- flutes; Kim Plainfield- drums; Steve Berrios- drums, congas; Milton Cardona- congas, chekere; Myra Casales- percussion; David Finck- bass; Charles Fambrough- bass on "Pogo Sticks;" Lincoln Goines- bass on "Laurie," electric bass on "Fast Eddie" and "Wind It Up;" Randy Brecker- trumpet; Barry Donelian- trumpet, flugelhorn; Mike Migliore- alto saxophone; Roger Rosenberg- baritone saxophone; Richard Sortomme- concertmaster, violin; Sara Schwartz, Suzanne Ornstein, Robin Bushmun, Robert Chausow, Barry Finclair- violin; Arthur Fiacco, Stephanie Cummins- cello.