New York Latin Jazz pianist Bill O'Connell's Triple Play Plus Three" is an innovative spin on the traditional jazz trio format, featuring percussionist Richie Flores
and a rotating cast of celebrity guestsall multiple GRAMMY winnersclarinetist Paquito D'Rivera
, vibraphonist Dave Samuels
, and flutist Dave Valentin
Triple Play Plus Three" presents eight lively, virtuosic O'Connell originals, plus two 20th century classics by Thelonius Monk ('Round Midnight") and Kurt Weill ("Speak Low").
Thelonious Monk's signature composition 'Round Midnight, has been totally re-harmonized by O'Connell. Paquito D'Rivera's sweet-toned clarinet work is the perfect complement to O'Connell's lush chords.
Bill O'Connell's colorful career is notable for his extensive accomplishments in both Latin music and modern jazz, from serving as Mongo Santamaria's pianist in the 1970s over his long association with flutist Dave Valentín to working with Chet Baker, Sonny Rollins, Gao Barbieri, and the fabled Fort Apache Band, followed by a stellar career as a band leader and solo artist since the 1990s.
Bill O'Connell's state of mind these days would be the envy of road-weary jazzmen everywhere for a simple yet critically important reason: he's truly excited about the new ground he's broken on Triple Play + 3, his debut recording for ZOHO. At my age," the 50-something musician explains, it's liberating to find another approach to playing." O'Connell's refreshingly innovative spin on the traditional trio format, with conguero Richie Flores filling a role usually provided by a trap drummer and a rotating case of guest instrumentalists filling the third chair, offers a vast array of possibilities for all involved.
A lot happens at the moment," the leader adds, and that's the beauty of just having three people. Because there's no bassist, sometimes I'm playing the tumbao (the basic rhythm played on the conga and the bass in Afro-Caribbean music) with my left hand and sometimes I just leave it alone. This really allows me to direct the harmony or re-harmonize any way I want without having clashes with a bassist. I feel that this format has opened up a different way for me to play."
O'Connell first experimented with this unconventional set-up on the 2008 release simply called Triple Play, featuring Flores and flutist Dave Valentín. This time, with clarinetist Paquito D'Rivera and vibraphonist Dave Samuels also onboard, the pianist has substantially broadened the concept's stylistic spectrum. And, with its satisfying blend of rhythmically-distinct and thematically-diverse performances, his latest offering personifies the goal of ZOHO to present Latin and Jazz with a New York vibe."
The presence of D'Rivera on two tracks resulted from O'Connell's wish to reconnect in the studio with the legendary Cuban woodwind artist and do something new. I've known him for about three decades and played in his band a few times many years ago," the pianist explains. I absolutely love Paquito's clarinet playing, and he is deeply rooted in the traditional bebop style. I've also played in Dave Samuels' group, The Caribbean Jazz Project, and what he brings to the session is a bit more of a post-bop, modern jazz approach. As for Dave Valentín, he's truly beyond easy description; he's just a phenomenal Latin flutist with a serious jazz sensibility."
O'Connell's long and colorful career is notable for his extensive accomplishments in both Latin music and modern jazz. Indeed, there are few non-Latinos who have contributed as much to the Latin jazz idiom in the past four decades as has the lanky Long Island native. In the mid 1970s, he served as keyboardist in the great Mongo Santamaria's funky Latin jazz unit. In the early 1980s, he began a long association with Valentín as the popular flutist's music director and pianist. Over the years, he's worked with a wide range of artists, from trumpeter Chet Baker and saxophonist Sonny Rollins to the fabled Fort Apache Band, Argentine saxophonist Leandro Gato" Barbieri's group, and trombonist Conrad Herwig's Latin Side" ensemble. A solo recording artist since the early 1990s, O'Connell has also proven to be an uncommonly prolific composer and an increasingly versatile arranger, adding string scoring to his résumé while ever expanding the range of his pianistic skills.
The program opens with a surprising twist. O'Connell's Sweet Sophie Rose, named after his 18 year-old daughter, features D'Rivera in a high-spirited duel with the pianist, as Flores' congas provide an explosive percussive backdrop.
I have four kids, and they've all been the inspiration for a few tunes," O'Connell laughs. He recalls having worked with Lionel Hampton and notes that Sweet Georgia Brown" was one of his standards. A late uncle also loved the old tune and could pound it out on the piano. It was fun to write a tune based on 'Sweet Georgia Brown' and I felt that it would be a terrific vehicle for Paquito."
Bill's Blues is played in 5/4, an unconventional meter for the genre. The approach, featuring Samuels' darting vibes, is notable for its relaxed feel. Occasionally I write tunes in odd meters, but this one was so comfortable that we just fell right into it," the leader comments. It's nice when you can just play and forget you are playing in 5."
Crazy Samba positions Valentín's perky flute attack over a samba rhythm with more than a bit of funk on the top as O'Connell's left hand gets a strong workout, tackling a prominent bass line.Thelonious Monk's 'Round Midnight, one of only two non-O'Connell originals on the program, has been totally re-harmonized. A lot of that goes over the heads of some listeners," the arranger admits, but all of the different harmonies and the subtle touches in the arrangements are there. Because I want to personalize such a well known tune, I need to have them there." D'Rivera's sweet-toned clarinet work is the perfect complement to O'Connell's lush chords.
Non-Sense is what the leader calls a pedal-to-the-metal kind of piece where our collective attitude is, 'OK, let's hit this and see what we can do!' It has catchy breaks and although it's not a long composition, it requires that everyone really be on their toes, as it's a fairly aggressive, percussive song." It comes off as one of the session's most viscerally attractive outings.
Lake Road is a wistful ballad shaped by Valentín's reflective flute work, Flores' spare, atmospheric conga accents, and O'Connell's reverential comping. He wrote it in memory of two teenagers who died in an accident in his hometown. It's one of those small town tragedies," he comments, and I just wanted to make a small dedication to them."
Cobblestones finds Samuels' vibes in the thick of an evocative joyride in 6/8. It's a little more composed and with a tighter arrangement than some of the other tunes," O'Connell notes, but I just like the groove!" Listeners will as well.
Speak Low, the Kurt Weill masterpiece, is the session's only duo performance. We just turned on the tape and away we went," the pianist recalls. It's up-tempo and probably the least arranged of anything on the album. I wanted to do this kind of take with Richie because I feel like the communication we have doesn't really necessitate any kind of serious arranging. We can just let it fly and something great will happen."
The strong salsa flavor of Mr. E.P. stems from the source of the tune's inspiration, pianist Eddie Palmieri. O'Connell crafts the arrangement around a stylistically-pure, rhythmically robust 1-4-5 minor vamp, replete with a driving montuno.
The title of the set closer, La Playa, was chosen because, as its composer jokes, it just sounds so much nicer than 'The Beach!'" The tune boasts a strong rhythmic groove, fulfilling the leader's desire to end the session with something that might make people want to dance.
That's the beauty of this trio concept," O'Connell adds in summary of what he and his cohorts have accomplished on Triple Play + 3. I can take the music in any harmonic and textural direction I want. And, the great thing about it is that it's not just me; it's everybody. We can all do it together."Mark Holston