CONNOR O'NEILL — The Same Changes, Vol II (review)

CONNOR O'NEILL — The Same Changes, Vol II album cover Album · 2023 · 21st Century Modern Buy this album from MMA partners
4/5 ·
Ah, the task at hand beckons us to delve into the soulful and intricate world of Connor O'Neill's latest offering, "The Same Changes, Vol. II." This album will interest jazz fans and those with an affinity for the six-stringed instrument, especially those with an ear for a melodic performer with a gift for well-penned compositions.

O'Neill, a beacon in Philadelphia's creative music scene, brings his virtuosic guitar skills honed through years of academia, performance, and production. His educational background, with accolades from the University of the Arts, sets a sturdy foundation for his artistic endeavors. However, it is his life experiences, particularly those challenging moments of doubt and introspection, that breathe life into "The Same Changes, Vol. II."

The album is a journey of contemporary jazz, with each track acting as a vignette into O'Neill's musical dialect. The ensemble accompanying him—Alex Delcourt on bass, Steven Perry on drums, Morgan Walbridge on vibraphone, Mervin Toussaint on alto saxophone, Jessica Cantone with her voice, and Micah Graves on piano—creates a cohesive ensemble that excels at collaboration.

"Disordinance" kicks off the album, setting a mysterious aurora with its harmonious blend of counterpoint between the guitar and vibes. Walbridge's vibraphone keeps the sense of suspense while Delcourt solos. Walbridge's solo is melodic and well-paced. O'Neill's guitar, ethereal in its tone, speaks within the chords, spinning motifs that resonate with today's jazz sounds.

"Another Moment Reconciled" shifts gears, presenting a contemporary jazz ballad that weaves through fusion and modern rhythmic structures. Here, O'Neill's guitar sings with a warm clarity, supported by the translucent vibes of Walbridge and the rhythmic backbone of Perry and Delcourt. The track embodies the ensemble's dynamic synergy and shows their collective artistry and collaboration.

In "Gears," the addition of Toussaint's alto saxophone builds a new color and energy. The track's gentle swing and post-bop influences showcase O'Neill's ability to easily compose a memorable melody through complex time changes and harmonic landscapes, painting a sonic picture that's modern and rooted in the jazz tradition. O'Neill's soloing is expressive as he digs into the swing feel, painting with a balance of legato and staccato articulations. Toussaint's solo is imaginative, blending modern, gospel, and avant-garde textures that bring out the expressive qualities of O'Neill's composition.

"Singularity" features Micah Graves, whose piano interplay with O'Neill's guitar creates a plane of cool modal jazz that exemplifies the album's thematic focus on introspection and evolution. O'Neill's guitar solo is lyrical and rhythmically centered, with each note and rhythm painting a larger picture of personal expression. Graves' solo brings in soulful elements of the blues, modal jazz, and contemporary jazz. He is an excellent player, and his interactions with Perry's drumming add a new dimension to the creative expression of the composition.

“The Same Changes, Vol. II” is a six-song narrative woven through the strings of O'Neill's guitar and the collective voice of his ensemble. As a listener, one can't help but feel a part of O'Neill's journey, invited to find solace and understanding within the notes. This contemporary jazz album showcases O'Neill's technical skill as a player and composer of emotional depth and artistic integrity.

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