Pianist/Composer Bill O'Connell has long been a vital part of the New York Jazz scene. It is refreshing to see that he is given a rare opportunity to lead an ensemble on Triple Play, an unusual trio setting for O'Connell along with flutist Dave Valentin and Latin percussionist Richie Flores.
O'Connell has only been given this opportunity sporadically and his efforts are preserved on indie labels, Inner City, CTI and two sessions for Random Chance. The pianist has worked with a wide variety of musicians but has expressed a preference for a Latin jazz ambiance and was with Mongo Santamaria for more than two years beginning in 1977. O'Connell has been the musical director for Dave Valentin for more than two decades.
The enjoyment of listening to Triple Play is to hear the cohesiveness of these three musicians as they convene on an inspired Latin jazz session. In his liner notes Felipe Luciano suggests the difference between Latin jazz and jazz Latino. In jazz Latino, the music is a result of the harmonies of big band jazz and bebop while Latin Jazz is a music form that plays for the dancer and requires that the listener must pay attention to hear the music without forgetting the "The tradition of the clave in one's inner ear." Not a bad suggestion at all for this album inasmuch as there is a lot of musical room and space in this ensemble that only employs piano/flute/congas.
The music on this album is provided by five originals from O'Connell, one from Valentin, two standards, a Milton Nascimento tune and a jazz standard from Mongo Santamaria. It is indeed difficult to say which instrument contributes the most to this session which is probably the most positive sign of any finished album. Flores, an accomplished but little publicized Latin percussionist, shows his versatility throughout the album and plays the cajón on "Machu Picchu," enlivens on timbales on two tracks and on congas elsewhere. Flores appears in a duet with O'Connell on Santamaria's "Afro Blue" and lays out on "Dansette" which is an O'Connell/Valentin duet.
Dave Valentin is probably one of the most popular jazz flutists today although many may categorize much of his music as stemming from a smooth jazz preference. Be that as it may, Valentin has done for Latin jazz what Herbie Mann accomplished for the genre during the 1950s and '60s and on his most recent efforts, Come Fly With Me (HighNote, 2006) and World on a String (HighNote, 2005) the vibe is strictly mainstream Latin jazz.
Ultimately the above observations can be shelved while listening to Triple Play as O'Connell and company let the music speak for itself.
Personnel: Bill O'Connell: piano; Dave Valentin: flute, alto flute; Richie Flores: congas, cajón (3), timbales (6, 10).