Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Bill O'Connell: Rhapsody in Blue

Challenge Records
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Rhapsody in Blue

Those not familiar with pianist Bill O’Connell probably aren't Latin Jazz fans. That said, O'Connell has worked with traditional and hard-bop artists such as Chet Baker and Sonny Rollins. O'Connell is fluent in every genre, although you'll detect a definite Latin tinge to everything he plays.

O'Connell is a native New Yorker, and he studied at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music.

He wrote seven of these 10 tracks; the rest are the familiar standards "It Never Entered My Mind," "Bye Bye Blackbird" and "Rhapsody In Blue" ... and you seldom hear a swinging rendition of the latter. Seven very talented musicians split the duties here: Steve Slagle performs on both alto and soprano sax; Luques Curtis and David Finck are the bassists; Dave Samuels plays vibes; Steve Berrios is the drummer; Conrad Herwig handles the trombone; and Richie Flores is the percussionist.

The amalgamation of jazz genres is cleverly done. "Monk’s Cha Cha" puts a Latin groove on a meld of Monk’s "Mysterioso" and "Well, You Needn’t"; the same is true for "Bye Bye Blackbird" — always one of my favorites — and Gershwin’s "Rhapsody in Blue" ... which I actually enjoyed more than the original!

This is a swinging group, and it deserves our attention.

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