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Bill O'Connell has been a busy pianist/arranger, mainly in the Latin and Afro-Cuban jazz arenas, for over thirty years, having worked with artists including Dave Valentin, Mongo Santamaria, Jerry Gonzalez and Gato Barbieri. He may not be a household name, but with a large book of songs that have been widely recorded, he deserves to be. And now, with Latin Jazz Fantasy , he has created a work that ought to right that wrong. Firmly planted in the contemporary vein without coming anywhere close to the more straightforward groove-orientation of smooth jazz, Latin Jazz Fantasy is an ambitious work that is completely organic, and manages to place his Latin predilections in a broader context.
With a large cast of contributors, including small string and horn sections, O'Connell demonstrates his strengths as a performer, composer and arranger over the course of ten original compositions that range from an intimate duet with tenor saxophonist Bob Malach on "After the Dust Settled" to the full-blown arrangements of the title track and "Barcelona." His compositions tend towards longer form, avoiding the theme-solo-theme trapping and working more in the extended territory of writers like Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays, although there is no direct comparison that can be made between their work and O'Connell's.
If anything, there is a certain lineage that runs parallel with Yellowjackets' more recent, acoustic-centric work. "Fast Eddie" and "Wind It Up" could, in fact, easily fit in Yellowjackets' songbook, with funky and complicated rhythms that sound deceptively simple. Even the larger orchestrated work bear the comparison, although while O'Connell and the company he keeps are all outstanding players, they rely a little less on raw chops.
There is a clear sense of joy in the music, although O'Connell heads into more impressionist territory with both "Laurie," a tender ballad that features Stephanie Cummins' lush cello work, and "6 For Claude," another duet with Malach that is dedicated to Debussy. Still, pieces like the large-ensemble "Barcelona," the lyrical quartet piece "Maybe Tomorrow" and "Pogo Sticks," which features bassist Charles Fambrough doing what he does bestswinging hardare all optimistic, with a strong positive energy.
While the title of the album is Latin Jazz Fantasy and there can be no doubt of the roots of O'Connell's writing for this recording, its originality in approach and wider harmonic view transcends its genre. Infectious from start to finish, Latin Jazz Fantasy is a contemporary record that appeals without pandering.
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, composer, arranger), Bob Malach (tenor saxophone except on "Maybe Tomorrow," "El Yunque," clarinet on "Barcelona"), Dave Valentin (flute on "Barcelona," "Latin Jazz Fantasy," "El Yunque"), Dave Fink (bass on "Barcelona," "Latin Jazz Fantasy," "Maybe Tomorrow," "El Yunque"),Lincoln Goines (acoustic bass on "Laurie," electric bass on "Fast Eddie," "Wind It Up"), Charles Fambrough (bass on "Pogo Sticks"), Stephanie Cummins (cello on "Laurie"), Kim Plainfield (drums, except on "Latin Jazz Fantasy, "Pogo Sticks"), Steve Berrios (drums on "Latin Jazz Fantasy," "Pogo Sticks," congas on "Latin Jazz Fantasy"), Myra Casales (percussion on "Wind It Up," "El Yunque"), Milton Cardona (congas and chekere on "Barcelona," congas on "El Yunque"), Horn Section on "Barcelona," "Latin Jazz Fantasy," Strings on "Barcelona," "Latin Jazz Fantasy, "El Yunque" Horn Section: Randy Brecker (trumpet), Boarry Donelian (trumpet, flugelhorn), Mike Migliore (alto saxophone), Bob Malach (tenor saxophone), Roger Rosenberg (baritone saxophone) Strings: Richard Sortomme (violin, concert master), Sara Schwartz (violin), Suzanne Ornstein (violin), Robin Bushmun (violin), Robert Chausow (violin), Barry Finclair (violin), Arthur Fiacco (cello), Stephanie Cummins (cello)