Bill O'Connell: Rhapsody In Blue (2010)
O'Connell and saxophonist Steve Slagle are at the center of virtually all of the action, but the pianist also invites some A-list friends to join him on various tracks. The percussion section adds vibraphonist Dave Samuels and percussionist Richie Flores, on "Monk's Cha-cha" and the title track: the former, opening the album and hinting at Thelonious Monk's music ("Well You Needn't"), while maintaining its own identity; the latter, a Latin-ized take on George Gershwin's classic, featuring some sizzling alto work from Slagle. Trombonist Conrad Herwig makes the most of his appearance on "J-Man," delivering some awe-inspiring solo work.
While the guests add variety to the program, O'Connell doesn't need any big names to carry the load. He delivers expressive tides of sound on ballads ("It Never Entered My Mind"), provides explosive solo work on intense and irrepressible Latin numbers ("Off Center"), and lends solid support for his crew throughout the program. While O'Connell is a tough act with which to keep up, his band more than meets the challenge. Two bassistsDavid Finck and Luques Curtissplit the material, and both men bring their unique gifts to the table. Finck, with a focused, but not fat tone, is tremendous on his solo spot during "Pocket Change." At the other end of the spectrum, he provides rock solid support during the emotionally riveting "It Never Entered My Mind." Curtis, with a wider sound and affinity for sliding in and out of different grooves, anchors some of the most intense rhythmic numbers on the album.
Drummer Steve Berrios is brimming with energy, taking the band in myriad directions, often within the same song. Slagle is so focused, frenetic and ever-present that he virtually deserves co-billing. During the lone piano-saxophone presentation ("Rose Hill"), the pair is alternately romantic, restless, ruminative and relaxed, but always engrossing.
Like the Gershwin masterpiece giving this album its name, Rhapsody In Blue is a masterful musical creation that transcends any one given style that resides within the work.
Track Listing: Monk's Cha-cha; Pocket Change; Rhapsody In Blue; It Never Entered My Mind; J-Man; Off-Center; Two Worlds; Log-a-rhythm; Rose Hill; Bye Bye Blackbird.
Personnel: Bill O'Connell: piano; Luques Curtis: bass (1, 6-8, 10); David Finck: bass (2-5); Steve Berrios: drums; Steve Slagle: alto saxophone (1-3, 5, 6, 8, 9), soprano saxophone (4, 7); Richie Flores: percussion (1, 3); Dave Samuels: vibraphone (1, 3); Conrad Herwig: trombone (5).
Record Label: Challenge Records