Bill O'Connell: Rhapsody In Blue (2010)

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Bill O'Connell: Rhapsody In Blue
Pianist Bill O'Connell is no stranger to the world of Latin jazz. O'Connell has played for greats like Mongo Santamaria
Mongo Santamaria
Mongo Santamaria
1922 - 2003
percussion
and Dave Valentin
Dave Valentin
Dave Valentin
b.1952
flute
, but his range as an artist has taken him well beyond a Latin-only orbit. He's worked with jazz heavyweights like Sonny Rollins
Sonny Rollins
Sonny Rollins
b.1930
saxophone
and Chet Baker
Chet Baker
Chet Baker
1929 - 1988
trumpet
, too, but his greatest asset isn't his résumé. O'Connell possesses a classicist's touch that, thanks to a melding of his conservatory training with his life experiences, can be altered at will. O'Connell might be waxing rhapsodic—pun intended—at one point, but in the next moment he might be sizzling through a salsa-like section of music with a more aggressive attack. On various occasions, he manages to conjure these seemingly opposed ideals simultaneously, but none of this comes off as preplanned maneuvering. Good taste, fast reflexes, killer technique and a fluid ability to shift between Latin and swing mediums at will help to make Rhapsody In Blue one of the most engaging and enjoyable Latin jazz records of 2010.

O'Connell and saxophonist Steve Slagle
Steve Slagle
Steve Slagle
b.1951
sax, alto
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
Dave Samuels
Dave Samuels
b.1948
vibraphone
and percussionist Richie Flores, on "Monk's Cha-cha" and the title track: the former, opening the album and hinting at Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Monk
1917 - 1982
piano
's music ("Well You Needn't"), while maintaining its own identity; the latter, a Latin-ized take on George Gershwin
George Gershwin
George Gershwin
1898 - 1937
composer/conductor
's classic, featuring some sizzling alto work from Slagle. Trombonist Conrad Herwig
Conrad Herwig
Conrad Herwig
b.1959
trombone
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 bassists—David Finck
David Finck
David Finck
b.1958
bass
and Luques Curtis—split 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
Steve Berrios
Steve Berrios

percussion
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

Style: Latin/World


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