Apparently pianist Bill O’Connell can’t get enough of the reconfigured trio format he explored on his 2008 release Triple Play, a bass-less session with conguero Richie Flores and flutist Dave Valentin. On Triple Play Plus Three, Flores and Valentin join two seasoned recruits: clarinetist Paquito D’Rivera and vibraphonist Dave Samuels. Still, save for one duo performance, this is a Latin jazz trio session with a chair reserved for a member of the rotating lineup.
In a quote that appears in the liner notes, O’Connell calls the experience of performing in this unusual setting “liberating,” and it’s easy to hear why when his animated left hand is prominently featured on “Crazy Samba” or when he imaginatively recasts “‘Round Midnight” with a soulful assist from D’Rivera. Of course, Valentin and Samuels have their moments, too. On alto flute, Valentin brings elegiac lyricism to “Lake Road,” one of eight O’Connell compositions on the album, while Samuels wittily complements O’Connell and Flores on the scurrying, percussive “Non-Sense.” The vibraphonist also adds cascading colors to “Bill’s Blues,” some summertime splash to “La Playa,” and helps O’Connell and Flores pay evocative tribute to Eddie Palmieri on the salsa “Mr. EP.”
It’s hard to say if the shifting lineup is inspiring the shifting moods or vice versa. But in any case, Valentin, D’Rivera and Samuels clearly help “liberate” O’Connell throughout the album. And the duo track? When the pianist and Flores are left to their own devices on a brisk and spontaneous “Speak Low,” sparks fly.