Bill O'Connell's stints with Gato Barbieri, Dave Valentin and others have helped the pianist hone a sizable reputation that equals his 6-foot 5-inch frame. On Black Sand he blends Afro-Cuban and Brazilian styles with a well-rounded jazz vocabulary.
Known for his electronic keyboard work, O'Connell opts to play entirely on acoustic piano on Black Sand. His original compositions are presented in a variety of combinations here: trios with trap drummer Steve Berrios and bassist Andy Gonzalez; ensembles with Randy Brecker (trumpet) and Joe Ford (soprano/alto sax), who swing the title-track; and Cuban folklore on "Obakoso," which features percussionist Milton Cardona playing the beaded-gourd chekere and singing a Santeria prayer.
Check out "Blue Brazil," a slow sultry bossa nova with Dave Valentin; the bold crashing chords of "Alhambra" and its intricate breaks; Ford's haunting soprano on "Latin Jazz," "Gentle Rumba" and the ballad "Trepidation"; and "Son of a Montuno," a pianistic marvel that begins solo and grooves into a solid son montuno beat inverted to no end by drummer Berrios and anchored by Gonzalez's solid bass.
The playing is relaxed throughout Black Sand even as O'Connell pushes his improvisations.