Pianist and native New Yorker Bill O’Connell has been a mainstay on the jazz scene for many years. After having studied classical piano at The Oberlin Conservatory, O’Connell eventually worked with Mongo Santamaria, Chet Baker and Sonny Rollins before joining Latin jazz flutist Dave Valentin in 1982. The two have been virtually inseparable since they joined forces, though this hasn’t stopped O’Connell from working with others like Nnenna Freelon and Charles Fambrough.
An early standout recording of O’Connell and Valentin’s work is the delicious Live At The Blue Note (GRP) of 1988. Here the two work in duet, accompanied by the great Latin and multiple percussionist Richie Flores. Recorded for the small independent Savant recording label, this recording is all about three musicians putting it all on the line. Their take-no-prisoners approach would never work on today’s major labels because there is absolutely nothing commercial about this recording, and we, the listeners, are better for it.
From the first notes of the O’Connell ripper "Triple Play," to the ending and very dancey "Dansette," which they included on the previously mentioned Live recording, these three musicians are truly of a single mind. Along the way they cover Santamaria’s "Afro Blue," five originals by O’Connell, the single Valentin composition "Dansette" and a few Latin standards.
As a duo, O’Connell and Valentin’s musical dexterity is seen in their working of "Afro Blue" into a cadenza-ish out-of-meter romp that was obviously approached in the manner of free-jazz. So familiar with each other, all of the compositions on this disc were probably handled in the same manner; throw out a title and let it rip. Their instant communicative skills are proven on "Dansette" where it seems O’Connell knows ahead of time which alternate chords and voicings Valentin will need even before the flutist gets there. On "Flying" O’Connell’s off-kilter opening sets the stage for great passive flute statements that, without their addition, would diminish the piece considerably. Once they open it up the sparks fly.
Throughout Flores’ Latin percussion work perfectly sets the stage for the other musicians. While he never intrudes, Flores’ work is still hip, to the point, and perfectly designed to allow maximum room for each soloist, yet he never forgets to remind us just how funky Latin music can be.