Friday, February 26, 2016

USA: Bill O’Connell And The Latin Jazz All-Stars "Heart Beat" CD Release Show Monday, April 25th @ Subrosa

Bill O’Connell And The Latin Jazz All-Stars

"Heart Beat" CD Release Show
Monday, April 25th
@ Subrosa
Shows at 7:30 and 9:30

Bill O'Connell-piano
Steve Slagle-sax and flute
Conrad Herwig-trombone
Luques Curtis- bass
Richie Barshay-drums
Roman Diaz-congas

63 Gansevoort St,
New York, NY 10014 
(646) 240-4264 

BILL O’CONNELL and the Latin Jazz All-Stars
Heart Beat

Conrad Herwig
Steve Slagle
Luques Curtis
Richie Barshay
Roman Diaz


1.       Vertigo                                                                                                              6:57
          (B. O’Connell)  (O’Connell Music)  SESAC

2.       The Eyes of a Child                                                                                           7:37
          (B. O’Connell)  (O’Connell Music)  SESAC

3.       Awani                                                                                                               5:30
          (B. O’Connell)  (O’Connell Music / Roman Diaz)  SESAC / BMI

4.       Waters of March                                                                                               6:50
          (A.C. Jobim)  (Corcovado Music)  BMI

5.       Tabasco                                                                                                           4:38
          (B. O’Connell)  (O’Connell Music)  SESAC

6.       ESP                                                                                                                  6:11
          (W. Shorter)  (Miyako Music)  BMI

7.       Heart-Beat                                                                                                        7:11
          (B. O’Connell)  (O’Connell Music)  SESAC

8.       Wake Up                                                                                                          4:31
          (B. O’Connell)  (O’Connell Music)  SESAC

9.       Peace On Earth                                                                                                7:08
          (B. O’Connell)  (O’Connell Music / Roman Diaz)  SESAC / BMI


Bill O’Connell – piano
Conrad Herwig – trombone
Steve Slagle – soprano (tr. 1, 4, 7), alto (tr. 3, 6, 8, 9) saxophones & flute (tr. 2 & 5)
Luques Curtis – bass
Richie Barshay – drums
Roman Diaz – congas, percussion, bata drums (tr.  2 & 9), vocal (tr. 9)
Melvis Santa – vocal (tr. 3, 6, 9)
Diego Lopez & Clemente Medina – bata drums (tr. 2 & 9)

All arrangements by Bill O’Connell

Produced by Bill O’Connell
Executive Producer: Joe Fields
Engineered by Chris Sulit
Recorded at Trading 8’s Music, Paramus, NJ on June 2 & 3, 2015
Mixed by Kevin Blackler at Blackler Mastering
Photography: Sophie Solomon-O’Connell

Bill O’Connell is a Steinway Artist
Steve Slagle plays Yanagisawa Soprano Saxophone and Van Doren Reeds
Conrad Herwig performs exclusively on Michael Rath trombones
Luques Curtis plays D’Addario strings & appears courtesy of Truth Revolution Records
Richie Barshay plays Canopus Drums, Remo Drumheads, Zildjian Cymbals and Vic Firth Sticks
Roman Diaz plays Latin Percussion

Conrad Herwig appears courtesy of Half Note Records
Roman Diaz appears courtesy of Motema Music

“Most of my contemporaries didn’t go down this path,” Bill O’Connell says, reflecting on his decision to immerse himself in the heady world of Latin jazz at the onset of his career as a keyboardist, composer and arranger. “But I saw the beauty in this music and it touched me on an emotional and intellectual level,” he adds. “So, four decades later, here I am.”

Here as well are O’Connell’s devoted fans, primed to relish the latest offering by this man of many talents on Heart Beat, his fourth release for the Savant label. Always one to seek out new ways to express his music vision, the pianist has throughout his career embraced a broad stylistic swath of jazz, Latin and Brazilian idioms while experimenting with an equally diverse orchestral formats, from a duo to unconventional trio settings and ensembles of various sizes. His well-known resume includes long stints as keyboardist and arranger for the legendary Cuban conguero Mongo Santamaria and Puerto Rican flautist Dave Valentín as well as engagements with a diverse array of jazz and Latin artists, from saxophonists Sonny Rollins and Gato Barbieri to trumpeters Chet Baker and Jerry Gonzalez.

On Heart Beat, the frontline of O’Connell’s handpicked Latin Jazz All-Stars more than lives up to its billing. Trombonist Conrad Herwig, a long-serving member of pianist Eddie Palmieri’s Latin jazz group, and has put his own stamp on the music via a series of critically-acclaimed The Latin Side of recordings which have given a Latin spin to the compositions of such luminaries as Herbie Hancock and John Coltrane. “I’ve gotten really tight with him since playing on his projects,” O’Connell says of his friend, a fellow music professor at Rutgers University. “He’s truly a virtuoso on the trombone with a beautiful sweet tone and very melodic ideas.” As for woodwind artist Steve Slagle, O’Connell has known him since the 1980s and has long been aware of his unique gifts. “He brings a unique voice to whatever he plays,” the leader comments, “very free but also swingin’.”

The core rhythm section of bassist Luques Curtis, drummer Richie Barshay and Cuban conga drummer and percussionist Roman Diaz is perfectly suited to O’Connell’s overall concept. “Every member of my group needs to really know the vocabulary of both Latin and jazz idioms,” he states. “These guys all have a sensitive touch but can also express themselves dynamically.” The presence of these rhythm aces, plus vocalist Melvis Santa on three tracks, allows O’Connell to experiment with some heretofore seldom used elements – the rustic cadence of folkloric-rooted conga and batá drumming and the use of a coro (vocal chorus) to add a touch of mysticism. 

The tracks, including seven originals by the leader, convey a wide range of sonic moods and rhythmic grooves. “Vertigo,” the compelling set opener, is an exhilarating example of O’Connell’s inherent curiosity and natural inventiveness at work. He starts the piece alone playing freely before diving into a robust, two-handed figure in 7. The results are arresting. “I’ve never considered myself an odd metered guy, but lately I’ve been doing it more,” he comments. “And, I’ve found that when I start writing in odd times, I internalize it more. When I play it, I play it. But when I write it, I really hear it.”

“Eyes of a Child,” a trance-setting ballad, starts with a simple piano figure that O’Connell says is close in style to a batá cadence. “Anything you add a batá to has that spiritual vibe,” he notes. “And I love the combination of the trombone and flute. They blend very nicely.” “Awani” is a brisk-paced workout with both bebop and funky música tipica variants surging throughout. Diaz wrote the coro, allowing the Latin and jazz worlds to smoothly blend. The coro and hardcore Latin feel open the arrangement before it goes into a blues at the bridge. Then it alternates back and forth between the Latin and jazz. “Using a coro really opened it up for me,” O’Connell reminisces, ecstatic about the happy results.

For Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Waters of March,” an often recorded standard by the famed Brazilian composer, O’Connell’s approach was to slow down the catchy, simple melody and add some new harmony. “Tabasco,” another original that was originally recorded with Dave Valentín 25 years ago, was written in 5 but performed in 6 due to the flautist’s preference. “So, I’ve waited all this time to do it as I originally conceived it,” the pianist laughs.

For Wayne Shorter’s “ESP,” O’Connell arranged it as a kind of as a round for the horns, alternating between a straight-ahead jazz and Latin feel. The session’s title tune, “Heart-Beat,” celebrates the role of the conga as the true pulse of Latin jazz. “The rest of us do other things while Roman holds down the fort,” the leader states. “He is a pure timekeeper but also a great soloist with really big ears. Here he really took care of business and played beautifully.” “Wake Up,” with its juicy chord changes and hypnotic rhythms, is an example of the kind of naturally appealing melodies the composer has crafted since the 1970s.

The set closer, “Peace on Earth,” an homage to Obatalá, an Orisha (deity) in the Afro-Cuban of Santería religion, ends the session as dramatically as it began. “This is about my conscious awakening,” O’Connell admits. “I like mixing a message into the music if I’m feeling it. The vocal and batá drumming give it a spiritual personality. I’m not trying to change the world, just add something positive to it.”

Addressing the evolution of a career that is convincingly summarized on Heart Beat, O’Connell muses about his journey as an artist. “There have been leaps and bounds along the way,” he notes. “That’s the beauty of having been in it for the long haul. And, ultimately, that’s the beauty of music; it can grow with you for your entire life.”

-- Mark Holston
Music critic and contributor, JAZZIZ and LATINO magazines

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