Pianist Harold O’Neal, a veteran of recordings with Greg Osby and Bobby Watson, has an impressive first outing in this mesmerizing collaboration with guitarist Rick Gibbins. The interplay is impressive between the two throughout the original double CD program, with each stepping forward and then standing back to accompany the other.
Arranged as a suite in three parts and 13 movements, it tells the story of the composer’s family, beginning with his great-great grandfather, a man who first came to this country from Africa, against his will. The suite is interspersed with pieces that reflect social and familial changes with tempos that reflect the mood. The six and a half minutes of "Middle Passage," for instance, manages to interpret the feel of the unforgiving sea, and on "Felix Bebop" the feel, while not overtly bop in nature, reflects the energy of the era. This is the pattern followed throughout the program on passages with titles that reflect the familial transformation and growth of the composer’s ancestors through his immediate family.
Sections are dedicated to his great grandfather, who was something of a vagabond, and to his father, who was a Black Panther in Kansas. The story is told in a musically impressive and fascinating voice, with both performers shining throughout. The ability to perform convincingly and movingly in such a context is rare. Harold O’Neal and Rick Gibbons do so splendidly. A fascinating project, indeed.