O'Neill is a Boston-based percussionist and vibraphonist who works in a stupefyingly wide variety of musical contexts, including jazz (Groove Honey, Dave Rasmussen Big Band), Klezmer and Sephardic music (The Klezwoods, Aljashu), Balkan / Middle Eastern music (Kafana, The Fa Diyez Ensemble), and a host of other ensembles that play everything from contemporary chamber music to traditional Mexican music to Brazilian chorros. However, Mr. Ho's Orchestrotica is O'Neill's 'baby,' and the depth of thought that went into this CD, and the preceding one (a re-working of Juan Garcia Esquivel's orchestral Exotica works) is immediately apparent from the first listen. Clearly, O'Neill draws a little bit from each of the musical traditions he's explored in these other contexts to create the musical hybrid you hear on “Third River Rangoon.”
The instrumentation – led by O'Neill's vibes and Geni Skendo's bass flute, with occasional contributions by Tev Stevig on oud – lends itself to mellowness and understatement. Similarly, Noriko Terada's percussion is used more to provide additional color and atmosphere to the music, rather than driving it forward in a groove-oriented fashion. That said, Terada provides quite a bit of propulsion on tunes such as the relatively complex 'Moai Theif,' and 'Phoenix, Goodbye,' where bassist Jason Davis does a lot of arco work. O'Neill's compositions are engaging and quirky, rife with appropriately Eastern-sounding tonalities. The quartet also covers pieces written by Cal Tjader ('Colorado Waltz'), Milt Raskin ('Maika') and Peter Ilych Tchaikovsky ('Arab Dance'). I got the sense that the group could really benefit from the use of an additional voice – both to provide contrast to the relentlessly resonant vibes / bass flute leads, and to provide a bit more improvisational interest. Though this music doesn't demand much of the musicians as improvisors, the tracks with oudist Tev Stevig sitting in had an extra spark that perked up the proceedings noticeably.