Album of the Week: Triple Play Plus Three, Bill O'Connell


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Bill O'Connell
Bill O'Connell
Triple Play Plus Three
Zoho Music

More than any other context in jazz, the art of trio performance is dictated immensely by the involved musicians. The basic formation of three musicians provides a perfect balance of structure and freedom—there's just enough people to keep everyone focused upon form and style while the sparse setting leaves ample room for improvisation. The balance can sway depending upon the musicians's personalities, which keeps things interesting. An artist with a preference for exploration will lean the group towards a more open approach while a more traditional musician forces structure upon the trio. While a dominant musical personality can certainly shift a trio in one direction or another, the most interesting things happen with the combination of personalities. The give and take between artistic preferences becomes readily apparent in a trio setting and new shades of grey appear between freedom and form. Different trio combinations continually bring out new sides to musicians and stretch their artistry. On Triple Play Plus Three, Bill O'Connell explores the extensive sides of his musicianship in the trio setting, combining his piano with Richie Flores' congas and contributions from a rotating set of musicians.

Triple Play With Paquito D'Rivera

Paquito D'Rivera joins O'Connell and Flores for several tracks, lending his clarinet to the trio. O'Connell riffs chords over a pedal tone on the introduction to “Sweet Sophie Rose," until D'Rivera's clarinet soars into the main melody. D'Rivera tears into a bebop fueled improvisation that wildly turns the chord changes inside out, followed by a ferocious display of melodic intensity from O'Connell. The two musicians enthusiastically trade phrases as Flores comments assertively upon each idea, and after a return to the melody, the conguero explodes into a commanding solo. O'Connell frames D'Rivera's melodic introduction with carefully placed arpeggios on Thelonious Monk's “'Round Midnight," until the musicians fall into a beautifully harmonized version of the classic melody. As Flores maintains a steady tumbao, O'Connell gracefully improvises through the changes with flourishes of harmonic color and lush melodic lines. As D'Rivera flies into his solo, he invigorates the band with a burst of energy, bringing the song to a vibrant climax with a boppish flair. There's a degree of impressive mastery as these three musicians meet, overflowing with joyful and intelligent musicianship.

Triple Play With Dave Samuels

Vibraphonist Dave Samuels joins O'Connell and Flores on several tracks, adding another layer of percussive and melodic depth to the trio. O'Connell sets a bluesy tone with soulful licks over Flores' open tumbao on “Bill's Blues," leading into an understated melody on piano and vibes. Samuels references the melody at the beginning of his solo, opening up into a greasy combination of syncopated lines and quick runs. O'Connell builds upon the deep soul of the music with an improvisation that pushes the groove forward and reveals an inner fire. Both Samuels and O'Connell attack the angular melody on “Non Sence" with a ferocious energy while Flores aggressively maintains a frenetic groove. O'Connell plows straight into a high energy solo that flies through flurries of notes and explodes into edgy syncopated rhythms. Samuels follows with a fiery statement pushed to an even higher level through a head-spinning conversation happening between O'Connell and Flores. Samuels and O'Connell set up a powerful 6/8 groove that leads into a strutting melody on “Cobblestones." The pianist plays with the flexible rhythmic feel during his improvisation, running creative lines through a variety of emphasis points. Samuels sparks a percussive conversation with O'Connell, building his improvisation into a driving groove that serves as a foundation for Flores' assertive statement. Interlocking ostinato patterns from Samuels and O'Connell lock strongly into Flores' conga pattern on “La Playa," creating an unforgettable groove. Both Samuels and O'Connell turn the rollicking rhythmic patterns into glowing hot improvisations, full of live and creative energy. The real star of the show here is Flores though, who breaks his tumbao into an open combination of groove and conversational improvisation that takes the song into a frenzied energy. The percussive edge that Samuels brings to the group inspires a much more rhythmic side in both O'Connell and Flores, adding another layer of excitement to the group.

Triple Play With Dave Valetin

O'Connell continues his longstanding musical relationship with flautist Dave Valentin on several tracks. A unison rhythmic break from O'Connell and Flores leads into a lively melody on “Crazy Samba," shared between Valentin and the pianist. As Flores and O'Connell create a driving forward motion, Valentin enthusiastically solos over the changes, alternating melodies with sharp rhythmic attacks. The pianist bounces around the groove with a energetic improvisation that masterfully dances around the changes. O'Connell sets up a beautiful vamp while Valentin riffs on “Lake Road," and once Flores joins the fray, the musicians move through a gorgeous melody. O'Connell elegantly lays carefully structured melodies over the slowly unfolding foundation, painting an insightful image. The airy tone of Valentin's low register adds an emotional tinge to the melody and puts a reflective air into the song's wide open ending. O'Connell clearly channels Eddie Palmieri with a powerful montuno on “Mr EP" before Valentin joins him in an angular rhythmic melody. The pianist anchors the groove with a heavy left hand tumbao as he cuts loose through his improvisation with a ferocity commonly associated with the song's namesake. Valentin rips through the changes with a driving syncopation that sends the band flying into a menacing montuno that allows Flores to plow through an awesome display of rhythmic virtuosity. There's a degree of familiarity between these three musicians that allows for open interplay and an engaging degree of communication.

Triple Play And The Art Of The Latin Jazz Trio

Triple Play Plus Three presents a fascinating study in Latin Jazz trio work, as O'Connell demonstrates the effect of rotating the group's membership. Each musician brings out a fascinatingly different and exciting aspect of the trio concept, keeping the album consistently interesting. D'Rivera, Samuels, and Valentin each carry such distinct musical approaches—as they make contributions to the album, their different ideals color the music drastically. The most interesting thing on the album is the way that O'Connell and Flores react to these different musicians though; they hold onto the core voices but adapt to each new member's individual style. The telepathic relationship between O'Connell and Flores sits at the core of the album's success; the two musicians create an undeniably powerful groove and fluid improvisatory conversation that breathes life into every track. There's not a sense that they are supporting players to a rotating cast of superstars though; on the contrary, they are powerful artistic architects that shape each step of the music. Triple Play Plus Three delivers a constantly unfolding journey through the Latin Jazz trio, showing the vast potential of this format and the varied inherent possibilities.

Track Listing:

  1. Sweet Sophie Rose (O'Connell)
  2. Bill's Blues (O'Connell)
  3. Crazy Samba (O'Connell)
  4. 'Round Midnight (Monk)
  5. Non-Sense (O'Connell)
  6. Lake Road (O'Connell)
  7. Cobblestones (O'Connell)
  8. Speak Low (Weill/Nash)
  9. Mr. EP (O'Connell)
  10. La Playa (O'Connell)

Musicians: 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)

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This story appears courtesy of The Latin Jazz Corner by Chip Boaz.
Copyright © 2021. All rights reserved.


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