Through the years Bill O’Connell reading of Latin-Jazz has been characterised as music that is typically measured and full-bodied, freighted with meaning. This recording Heart-Beat is no less outstanding. Its entire repertoire is pleasingly clean and immediate, which makes it all very robust, and thanks to the presence of Román Díaz and Melvis Santa, rhythmically and spiritually superb. O’Connell’s burgeoning relationship with the dashing and prodigiously-gifted members of the Latin Jazz All-Stars also comes into the mix that makes this disc wholly memorable. The superlative accounts of his original compositions as well as the Jobim and the Shorter pieces are trenchant and clear-sighted and in places that glow white hot.
Bill O’Connell’s pianism has always been informed of good rhythm, clean articulation and phrasing which is as affectionate as it is unfussy. And although the idiom demands lusty clave one must never lose sight of O’Connell’s graceful dynamics and expression which is sublimely succinct in slow movements. His delicate phrasing is always memorable and full of surprise. This gives his lines dynamism and twists and turns that dart and swerve like happy ferrets that have been set free and into the wild again. O’Connell’s sense of melody is flawless and he makes songs that are lyrical, buoyant and engagingly genteel. Engagement and imagination are of a consistently high standard while whirring tempos between choruses suggest a robust playing that is quite brilliant.
This disc is adorned by beautiful playing on the part of trombonist Conrad Herwig and saxophonist Steve Slagle, who bump and grind with the pianist creating wonderful images and stories around Bill O’Connell’s masterful arrangements. Bassist Luques Curtis, now a senior citizen in the Jazz citadel, not only anchors the rhythm section – which also includes drummer Richie Barshay, Díaz and batá drummers Clements Medina and Diego López – but he plays a leading harmonic role and is especially magnificent in his short and pungent solos. Díaz is a master of Afro-Cuban Santeria and he brings the gravitas of his chants and vocals to several pieces here. His presence is particularly dramatic on Peace On Earth, a song that seems to have been conceived with him in mind.
Bill O’Connell continues to be in the springtime of his career and his last few recordings are wonderful testaments to a gift for composition and performance. With Heart-Beat O’Connell seems to be getting in touch with his spiritual centre of gravity. More of this extraordinary music is still to come and it is likely that O’Connell will continue to reside in this soulful place. Latin Jazz is richer for his contributions as he continues to add volumes to the literature of the earthy dialect.
- Artist Profile: Bill O’Connell
- Album review: Jazz Latin
- Album review: Bill O’Connell: Monk’s Cha Cha
- Album review: Bill O’Connell Latin Jazz All-Stars: Imagine
- Album review: Bill O’Connell Latin Jazz All-Stars: Zócalo
Track List: Vertigo; The Eyes of a Child; Awani; Waters of March; Tabasco; ESP: Heart-Beat; Wake Up; Peace on Earth.
Personnel: Bill O’Connell: piano; Conrad Herwig: trombone; Steve Slagle: soprano (1, 4, 7), alto (3, 6, 8, 9) saxophones and flute (2, 5); Luques: bass; Richie Barshay: drums; Román Díaz: congas, percussion, batá drums (2, 9) and vocal (9); Melvis Santa: vocal (3, 6, 9); Clemente Medina: batá drums (2, 9); Diego López: batá drums (2, 9).
Released – February 2016
Label – Savant Records
Runtime – 56:40