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Bill O’Connell and the Latin Jazz Allstars: Imagine

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It’s curious that Bill O’Connell’s 11th album as a leader is titled after the revered John Lennon anthem covered within, because it’s atypical of most of his work. O’Connell’s stock-in-trade is bop-tempered Afro-Cuban rhythm, and few traces of such surface during the elegant float through the song. But what the pianist and his sextet do with “Imagine” instead is more valuable than giving it a stock clave coating. About midway through the nearly nine-minute rumination, following saxophonist Steve Slagle and trombonist Conrad Herwig’s subtle, repeated restating of the theme, O’Connell carries it away, his impeccably phrased solo leaving Lennon far behind. By the time Slagle returns to wrap it, the reimagining of “Imagine” is unrecognizable, becoming this sextet’s own, and a highlight of the set.

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