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June 2008

Bill O’Connell
Triple Play
Savant

The old adage that good things come in small packages is proven once again in Latin-jazz pianist Bill O’Connell’s latest and seventh disc as leader. Instead of the large ensemble typically associated with Latin jazz, you have a trio (even a couple of duo tracks); in place of big, brassy instruments, there’s flute (courtesy of Latin-jazz veteran and longtime O’Connell compadre Dave Valentin) and smaller drums (congas, cajón and timbales, played by another accomplished Latin player, Richie Flores). Then there are the little touches—a hint of O’Connell’s classical training in the elegiac “A Call for Sanity” or blues in “Flying By”—and little jokes like the multiple meanings of the zippy title track or the Afro-Cuban based “Second Son.”

Little surprises occur throughout, perhaps none bigger than the reinvention of “Afro Blue” (by O’Connell’s former employer, Mongo Santamaria) as a delicate and effective ballad. The O’Connell originals that predominate (rounded out by a couple of standards, Milton Nascimento’s Brazilian favorite, “Cravo E Canela,” and the most traditional number here, Valentin’s closing nod to the roots and classic danzón in “Dansette”) are more inclined to telegraph their styles and intentions rather than publish them in 72-point type. But in the end, when you add up all the little parts—the range of music, the skill and chemistry of the players, the many small pleasures in arrangement and execution—Triple Play adds up to a surprisingly high-scoring set.

Originally published in June 2008
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