All About Jazz Review - Bill O'Connell: Monk's Cha Cha

By Dan Bilawsky

Pianist Bill O'Connell has long been valued for his blazing Latin chops, enlivening bands lead by flutist Dave Valentin and legendary conguero Mongo Santamaria as a sideman and delivering his own burning leader dates on a variety of respected imprints in recent times—Zoho, Challenge, and Savant, to name just three. He's been a steady though occasionally under-documented force in the music for decades, putting his dependable pianistic stamp on many absorbing projects, but he's never delved deeply into the art of solo piano on record until now. 

Monk's Cha Cha is a first..and a first-rate first at that. Recorded live at the Carnegie-Farian Room in Nyack, New York, it presents O'Connell all by his lonesome on nine songs that highlight his command over the keys. Everything you could possibly look for in a pianist—taste, clarity of touch, technique, wit, erudition, harmonic depth, lyricism, rhythmic authority—is here for the taking. It may have taken Bill O'Connell a long time to go it alone for a full-length album, but it was well worth the wait. 

In keeping with his usual preferences, O'Connell touches on originals, Latin classics, and Great American Songbook standards. He delivers a balanced program that relies on heart and fire. "The Song Is You"—one of O'Connell's favorite vehicles for exploration in his practicing for the past four decades—serves as a spirited entryway. Clearheaded melodic play, chordal brilliance, left hand punctuation, scampering right hand runs, and dancing lines all add up to a profoundly thrilling six minutes of music. Then there's a delightfully dreamy "Dindi" that serves as a nod to vocalist Jon Lucien, the primary inspiration behind this performance; the sly and spry title track, feeding off of the Latin lexicon, blues language, and direct references to The High Priest of Bop; a breathtaking, star-kissed take on "It Could Happen To You" that mostly shows O'Connell in a pensive state; and a trip down the pianist's "Zip Line" at the album's midpoint, delivering the rush of adrenaline and thrills connected to the titular activity. 

The back end of the program opens on an excitable take on Santamaria's "Afro Blue," serving as a fitting tribute to O'Connell's erstwhile employer and a testament to the pianist's powers of invention and development. The originals that follow—a gorgeously contemplative "Hither Hills," the brief and fidgety "Gibberish," and a dangerous, playful, and grooving "White Caps"—show an artist at the height of his powers. Some of this music appears elsewhere in O'Connell's discography—"Monk's Cha Cha" opens the program on Rhapsody In Blue (Challenge Records, 2010), "White Caps" closes things out on Imagine (Savant Records, 2014)—but you've never heard those songs like this before. Bill O'Connell breaks new ground here and it's a thrill to bear witness to his magic.

https://www.allaboutjazz.com/monks-cha-cha-bill-oconnell-savant-records-review-by-dan-bilawsky.php


Track Listing: The Song Is You; Dindi; Monk's Cha Cha; It Could Happen To You; Zip Line Afro Blues; Hither Hills; Gibberish; White Caps.

The 'Heart Beat' of Bill O'Connell and the Latin Jazz All-Stars is on Savant Records

From Classicalite, by Mike Greenblatt, Jan 20th 2016 

Pianist/Arranger Bill O'Connell learned his lessons well while in the respected bands of Cuban conguero Mongo Santamaria [1917-2003] and Puerto Rican flautist Dave Valentin after working early in his career for Sonny Rollins and Chet Baker [1929-1988]. He's a hard bebopper (as evidenced by the embedded video below) but his previous three Savant Records CDs explored jazz, salsa and samba in duo, trio and larger band contexts. Still, they have to be seen now as but a prelude to Heart Beat, a masterwork of percolating percussion and memorable melodic strains that add drama and more syncopation than you can shake a stick at on seven originals and two blistering covers.

 

Just dig that interpretation of Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Waters Of March" as the well-worn and beloved melody gets inundated with the kind of creativity and sophisticated nuance that brings it to a whole 'nother level. These boys sound hungry, with something to prove: trombonist Conrad Herwig, Steve Slagle on reeds, bassist Luques Curtis, drummer Richie Barshay, Latin percussionist Roman Diaz and vocalist Melvis Santa (on three of nine tracks) go wild. Their take on Wayne Shorter's "ESP," especially, makes this Miles Davis track sound positively rejuvenated.

If it's the musicians who make a band, then this aggregation is, indeed, All-Star. Herwig spent his formative years sliding that 'bone back and forth for Eddie Palmiere. O'Connell and he are Rutgers profs who bonded over their love of that Afro-Cuban clave. It shows. Yet they're not above some exotic mysticism on the trance-like spirituality of "Eyes Of A Child."

"Awani," in just over five minutes, traverses bebop-laced funk. "Tabasco" is hot, as it should be, hotter than when O'Connell recorded it originally 25 years ago with Valentin. The title tune is a percussion manifesto putting the taut skin of the conga through a series of slaps, hits and bangs worthy of Chano Pozo [1915-1948] in his Dizzy primeMore mysticism ensues on closer "Peace On Earth," written forObatala, a Santeria deity.

Heart Beat is the real thing. O'Connell , 62, may be a native new Yorker, but he has an old Latin soul.

http://www.classicalite.com/articles/35778/20160120/heart-beat-bill-oconnell-latin-jazz-stars-savant-records-review.htm

 

The International Review of Music: Live Jazz: Triple Play (Bill O'Connell, Dave Valentin, Munyungo Jackson) at the Jazz Bakery

It’s opening night, mid-week, mid-recession, early pandemic. A sparse but good-natured crowd has gathered at the Jazz Bakery to see Triple Play, a Latin jazz trio featuring pianist Bill O’Connell, flutist Dave Valentin and percussionist Munyungo Jackson.  O’Connell and Valentin have been playing together for nearly thirty years, but the first set at a new venue is always a feeling out process. Sound, spacing, acoustics, all come into play, as well as integrating the talented Jackson, with his full arsenal of congas, timbales, cow bells and more.

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