by Doug Ramsey
Bill O’Connell And The Afro-Caribbean Ensemble, Wind Off The Hudson (Savant)
The title might lead a listener to expect a New York winter chill in the air. Rather, what we hear is O’Connell at the helm of a band that sometimes sounds big and heated, sometimes smallish and intimate and–throughout–as if the musicians are having great fun. O’Connell’s early immersion in New York’s Latin music and salsa community helped imbue him with the spirit that courses through the collection. His superb writing and piano playing are at the heart of the album’s success. Lively performances by major players including saxophonists Gary Smulyan and Ralph Bowen, trumpeter Alex Sipiagin, flutist Andrea Brachfeld and trombonist Conrad Herwig, draw us in and elevate the sense that the players thoroughly enjoyed their studio time together. Nothing in the album captures that feeling more effectively than O’Connell’s personalization of Duke Ellington’s “C Jam Blues,” unless it is his adventurous closing track, “Discombobulation,” about which Russ Musto’s liner notes quote O’Connell as saying that he hoped it would “perhaps expand the horizons of Latin Jazz.” The arrangement may be outré enough to do just that.