Bill O'Connell: Triple Play Plus Three (2011)
Pianist Bill O'Connell's Triple Play (Savant, 2008) turned traditional notions of piano trio instrumentation on their head, and this album is a logical outgrowth and expansion of that particular project. While that outing had a consistent three man line-up that married O'Connell's piano with conga drummer/percussionist Richie Flores' engaging rhythm work and the fine flute playing of Dave Valentin, Triple Play Plus Three uses Valentin's spot as a revolving hot seat. The flautist returns for three numbers, including a mellow alto flute feature ("Lake Road") and an energetic romp dedicated to the great Eddie Palmieri ("Mr. E.P."), but elsewhere, his position is assumed by two equally elite Latin jazz musicians.
Vibraphonist Dave Samuels and Paquito D'Rivera, who keeps his saxophone in its case here and sticks to clarinet, take turns filling Valentin's vacated post, and they both bring something fresh and different to this format. Samuels' solos place him front and center in the mix, but his ensemble play is all about blending into the overall musical mesh. Whether coasting through an unhurried, odd-metered blues ("Bill's Blues") or fighting his way through an up-tempo muscle-flexing number ("Non-Sense"), Samuels always knows when to say his piece or simply step back into the shadows.
D'Rivera's two appearances aren't nearly enough, but they paint O'Connell as one who believes in the "always leave them wanting more" mindset. "Sweet Sophie Rose"named after O'Connell's daughteris a lively number that manages to showcase all three men as soloists, while also highlighting the strong rapport shared between them as a single unit, and their take on "'Round Midnight" rivals the best of them.
While the A-list artists that occupy the rotating spot may help to bring attention to this album, the connection between O'Connell and Flores is really at the heart of this project. Both men view rhythm as a language unto itself, rather than a subtext for presenting melody, and they don't need a third person to help them prove it. O'Connell and Flores go at it mano a mano on what may be the most rhythmically potent "Speak Low" that has ever been recorded, and it proves to be one of the standout tracks on the album.
While Double Play Plus One At A Time would have a been a more accurate title for this album, splitting hairs over the fuzzy math in the title threatens to take attention away from this wonderful music, and that would be a true shame.
Track Listing: Sweet Sophie Rose; Bill's Blues; Crazy Samba; 'Round Midnight; Non-Sense; Lake Road; Cobblestones; Speak Low; Mr. EP; La Playa.
Personnel: Bill O'Connell: piano; Richie Flores: congas; Paquito D' Rivera: clarinet (1, 4); Dave Samuels: vibraphone (2, 5, 7, 10); Dave Valentin: flute (3, 9), alto flute (6).