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Bill O’Connell: Jazz Latin (Savant)

Review of the pianist's latest album, featuring bassist Lincoln Goines, drummer Robby Ameen, and various special guests

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Cover of Bill O'Connell album Jazz Latin
Cover of Bill O’Connell album Jazz Latin

The latest release from pianist Bill O’Connell is generic in name only. In many ways, it’s a distinctly personal statement, inspired by the recent passing of flutist Dave Valentin and drummer Kim Plainfield, the legacy of significant influences (Monk and Jobim, as well as O’Connell’s mother), and the opportunity to cast a seasoned trio, featuring electric bassist Lincoln Goines and drummer Robby Ameen, in a series of shifting lights. Enter trumpeter Randy Brecker, trombonist Conrad Herwig, tenor saxophonist Craig Handy, flutist Andrea Brachfeld, and guitarist Dan Carillo. O’Connell’s Fender Rhodes also contributes colors and contrasts, adding soulfully evocative touches to the self-penned, Brazilian-flavored “It’s OK” and the lighthearted Monk salute “Tip Toes.”

As the album’s name suggests, melodic and harmonic expression are favored over Latin percussion, but the core trio, sometimes aided by O’Connell’s resounding left-hand jabs and pedal tones, lacks neither muscle nor finesse as it navigates samba, salsa, and funk grooves. Jobim’s “Zingaro,” reconfigured as a waltz, offers a delightful twist, as does O’Connell’s buoyant Latin orchestra-like reprise of “Puttin’ on the Ritz.” Carillo appears on two cuts, including the Plainfield tribute “Goodbye My Friend.” He brightens the tune with sliding sixths and bluesy pentatonics, but not before Brecker, on flugelhorn, delivers a lovely, heartfelt performance. Likewise, the pieces that showcase Handy, Herwig, and Brachfeld sound as if they were designed to do just that. All the while, O’Connell shines, whether displaying a harmonically deft touch or throttling the trio’s exhilarating thrust.

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