Bill O’Connell and the Latin Jazz All-Stars
2016: Savant Records, Inc.
Bill O’Connell on Piano
Conrad Herwig on Trombone
Steve Slagle on Soprano, Alto Saxes, Flute
Luques Curtis on Bass
Richie Barshay on Drums
Roman Diaz on Congas, Percussion, Bata Drums, Vocal
Melvis Santa on Vocal
Clemente Medina on Bata Drums
Diego Lopez on Bata Drums
Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
September 14, 2016
This CD is true to pianist, Bill O’Connell’s high musical standards, with an exceptional ensemble in force. The album presents Mr. O’Connell’s vibrant Latin jazz compositions, plus a track by Antonio Carlos Jobim and another by Wayne Shorter. In addition to Mr. O’Connell on piano, five musicians appear on each of nine tracks, Conrad Herwig on trombone, Steve Slagle on saxes, Luques Curtis on bass, Roman Diaz on congas and percussion, and Richie Barshay on drums. Featured artists are Mr. Slagle on flute, Mr. Diaz on bata drums and vocal, Melvis Santa on vocal, and Clemente Medina and Diego Lopez on bata drums. Each track shifts tempo and mood, with Mr. O’Connell’s vivacious arrangements. Mr. O’Connell is known for his long collaborations with Latin greats, like conguero, Mongo Santamaria, and flautist, Dave Valentin. Mr. O’Connell has been favorably reviewed in live performances, on these pages, in a Herbie Mann tribute and in events with a conga, flute trio. His music is imbued with mixed instrumentals, a combination of contemporary jazz, Latin clavé, and classical sophistication.
#3 – Awani – Composed by B. O’Connell. This fiery fast track features Mr. O’Connell’s explosive piano solo, pumped up by Mr. Curtis on bristling bass and Mr. Barshay and Mr. Diaz on feverish, staccato drums and congas. Mr. Slagle’s alto sax blended with Mr. Herwig’s trombone for flashy, sassy brass, while the ensemble joined Ms. Santa for group vocals. A stunning trombone solo showed that this band was enjoying the recording session immensely, the music was so effervescent. This track transported my memory to the old Copacabana.
#4 – Waters of March – Composed by A.C. Jobim. This eloquent Jobim standard is usually performed as a bouncing Brazilian samba, but, here, Mr. O’Connell gives the listener a new window into the entrancing theme. The trombone creates a sultry, swaying solo, while piano chords back it up. When the soprano sax and trombone form a couple of harmonized conversations, one after the other playing new phrases, the fusion plays gorgeously. A highlight is Mr. O’Connell’s piano solo, so seasoned and persuasive.
#5 – Tabasco – Composed by B. O’Connell. This ever-shifting track builds gorgeous momentum with Mr. O’Connell’s spotlighted piano, before he shares the theme with Mr. Slagle on lively, lush flute. Bass, drums, and congas are contagiously rhythmic, and Mr. Herwig’s trombone melds with the frenetic flute in ensemble phrases. My favorite passages include the full-mambo heat with striking, keyboard clavé and the tropical, tantalizing flute, kicking it up a notch.
#9 – Peace on Earth – Composed by B. O’Connell. This concert-styled, Afro-Caribbean infused track is spellbinding, with Mr. Diaz joining Ms. Santa on featured vocals, that later combine with full-band vocal flourishes. Piano, trombone, alto sax, bass, and drums are joined by more bata, bringing in Mr. Medina and Mr. Lopez, for a deep, percussive aura. This particular piece would be a fantastic score for modern dance, with such serendipitous jazz innovation.