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Bill O'Connell: Rhapsody In Blue

Edward Blanco By

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Internationally recognized composer/pianist Bill O'Connell has long been associated with Latin jazz, having established and cemented his reputation in the genre with past recordings like Black Sand (Random Chance, 2001) and Latin Jazz Fantasy (Random Chance, 2004). However the classically trained O'Connell is also well adept at playing other forms of jazz, including hard bop and mainstream—which, he does so well on Rhapsody In Blue. Naturally, O'Connell infuses this recording with a good measure of deep Latin grooves on several pieces, but with the number of excellent hard bop charts to be savored, it would be a mistake to categorize this as a Latin jazz project.

Having stated the obvious, the music opens up with "Monk's Cha-Cha," a nod to the Thelonious Monk compositions "Misterioso" and "Well You Needn't," with strong Latin rhythms propelled by Steve Slagle's tenor saxophone salvos and Dave Samuels vibraphone work. George Gershwin's famous title tune is another Latin sizzler, with O'Connell guiding the music in front of both Slagle and Samuels, as well as percussionist Richie Flores, "Off-Center" is the other obvious Latin number, featuring crashing cymbal accents from drummer Steve Berrios,as O'Connell lays down gorgeous and creative piano lines throughout.

The hard bop emerges on the second track, the perky "Pocket Change," and continues with the hard-driving original "J-Man," featuring more steamy work from Slagle and a superb trombone solo from Conrad Herwig on this, his only appearance of the album. "Two Worlds" and "Log-A-Rhythm" stray a bit from the hard bop flavor and follow a more mainstream approach. O'Connell gives one of his best performances on the intimate "Rose Hill," a charming duet and musical conversation with Slagle on alto saxophone.

Delivering a reverend and humbling rendition of the Rodgers and Hart classic "It Never Entered My Mind," Slagle lends a special tender touch, this time on the soprano, while O'Connell matches his gentle left-hand chords with ample right hand dexterity on beautiful fluid lines. Finishing off the album as he started, O'Connell closes with a Latin-infused version of the Henderson/Dixon standard "Bye Bye Blackbird" featuring nice bass lines from Luques Curtis who splits the bass work on the album with David Finck

A taste of the Latin style, a measure of hard bop with a touch of mainstream and a slice of standards makes Bill O'Connell's Rhapsody In Blue a varied musical project,t offering enough from across the jazz spectrum to please just about everyone.

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).

Title: Rhapsody In Blue | Year Released: 2011 | Record Label: Challenge Records

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