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Bill O’Connell Latin Jazz Project: Black Sand

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.

Originally Published