Bill O’Connell and the Latin Jazz All-Stars: Heart Beat

At both its fieriest and gentlest, Bill O’Connell’s music exudes sophistication, savvy and steam-never more so, perhaps, than on Heart Beat. As always, O’Connell leans Latin on his latest, a set of seven original works bolstered by tunes from Jobim and Wayne Shorter. The pianist utilizes the same core team with which he’s recorded for several years, one that undeniably justifies the All-Star designation. Saxophonist/flutist Steve Slagle is a virtual costar, as valuable a contributor of melodic and harmonic direction as the leader. Trombonist Conrad Herwig and the rhythm section of bassist Luques Curtis, drummer Richie Barshay and percussionist Roman Diaz (a new recruit) provide dependable anchoring, and a pair of batá drummers adds muscle to a couple of tracks. Vocalist Melvis Santa, featured on three numbers, brings mild spicing but is not a key factor.

Over the past four decades, as busy sideman and as leader, working in both the Latin-jazz arena and postbop, O’Connell has had plenty of time to coalesce his approach. “Vertigo,” the first track on Heart Beat, opens up wide, O’Connell, Slagle and Herwig trading animated, odd-meter solos over a furious battery of drums. The Brazilian-informed “The Eyes of a Child” slows the pace and features the first of two flute breaks by Slagle on the album, but by “Awani” they’re flying again, and the three frontmen are given a run for their money by Diaz’s congas and an insistent vocal refrain from Santa, who returns briefly to ornament Shorter’s “E.S.P.”

Three consecutive O’Connell compositions-the title track, “Wake Up” and “Peace on Earth”-wrap it up, each continuing the exposition of these musicians’ collaborative identity and individual mastery. But it’s the lattermost that truly shines, its near-orchestral breadth and colliding moods and rhythms a world of its own, inviting repeat exploration.

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