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Harold O’Neal: Man on the Street

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Harold O’Neal is a tough artist to pin down. Is he the stylish hard-bop reviver responsible for the well-received 2010 effort Whirling Mantis? Or the pianist who, on a period instrument, channeled the impressionists on his quirky 2012 solo album, Marvelous Fantasy?

On Man on the Street, he’s mostly a bopper, leading a strong quartet including saxophonist Marcus Strickland, bassist Joe Sanders and drummer Marcus Gilmore through a selection of originals. The songs aren’t terribly original. With Strickland showing off his vertical range on tenor, the John Coltrane influence is prominent on “The Dean of Swing”-on which O’Neal makes like McCoy Tyner with his dark, dancing chords-and the title track, a sweet-tempered modal workout. But however derivative these tunes are, there’s plenty of life in them. The melodies kick in instantly and maintain their grip with a lean efficiency. O’Neal learned how to keep a tight rein on the rhythms from saxophonist Bobby Watson, in whose band he started out, and lets his own freewheeling instincts as a pianist take it from there.

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