A Change Is Gonna Come
Release date: January 28, 2022
Label: Savant Records
A Change is Gonna Come is the powerful new release from esteemed pianist, composer, arranger and newly-minted GRAMMYⓇ nominee Bill O’Connell. This particular moment in history is a fraught one; A Change Is Gonna Come brings that point home with impassioned music reacting to the rampant racial and political injustice and pandemic-fueled turmoil of the present moment. A Change is Gonna Come features O’Connell alongside bassist Lincoln Goines, drummer Steve Jordan, percussionist Pedrito Martinez, and special guest Craig Handy tenor and soprano saxophone.
Lauded for his boundless, uncompromising prowess in the realm of Latin jazz, O’Connell’s fruitful musical journey began in 1977 when O’Connell began his tenure as the keyboardist for the legendary Mongo Santamaria’s Latin jazz band. A departure from the clavé-driven Latin jazz pocket that so often permeates O’Connell’s work, the pianist is heard here displaying his remarkable facility in the straight-ahead jazz idiom. The release of A Change is Gonna Come comes as O’Connell is fresh off the heels of his thrilling GRAMMYⓇ nomination for ‘Best Arrangement (Instrumental or A Capella)’ for the song “Chopsticks” on Richard Barratta’s album Music in Film: The Reel Deal.
This impassioned release is intrinsically tied to the unique and trying times in which it was created. O’Connell remarks: “I look at recordings this way: each one is a snapshot of how I’m feeling at this particular time in my life… Each song reflects a different feeling at a particular moment.” The pianist and composer channels his frustration, anger and grief for the medical, racial, economic and political turmoil that plagues our country into electrifying compositions that feature the masterful interplay of this tightly-knit outfit of jazz notables.
It was while performing with Sonny Rollins that the pianist first crossed paths with renowned drummer Steve Jordan. “We had an immediate chemistry going, but it was short-lived—about a month. Ever since then we’ve been trying to get together on a project. I finally called him up and I said, ‘Steve, I think it’s time.’ So he was into it, and we finally got it together to do this, so I’m very pleased that he’s on the record,” O’Connell notes. Jordan, who recently joined The Rolling Stones in place of the late Charlie Watts, is the album’s co-producer.
A more frequent presence on O’Connell’s dates is bassist Lincoln Goines, with whom he spent some thirty-odd years in flutist Dave Valentin’s rhythm section—before he became the pianist’s go-to bassist. “Lincoln and I have a long musical relationship, and I can’t say enough about what he brings to my music,” he says. “I love what he does on both acoustic and electric bass.” Guest saxophonist Craig Handy puts rich veins of both adventure and soul into O’Connell’s compositions, A Change is Gonna Come is the third album of O’Connell’s that features Handy. The pair first worked together in trombonist Conrad Herwig’s Latin Side big band… which is where O’Connell first encountered Pedrito Martinez, the record’s other guest.
O’Connell stirs the grey-matter with thoughtful original compositions such as “A Prayer For Us”. The piece is a vulnerable, gospel-inspired number. “I didn’t write it out this way, but you could also think of it as ‘A Prayer for U.S.,’” O’Connell muses, looking back on episodes of turmoil that fell through his country like dominoes. His improvising on the tune’s gentle swing has a bittersweet cast; one isn’t sure whether to be sad or hopeful. Perhaps that’s appropriate, too. “Covid Blues” is a B-flat blues with a plaintive soprano line that captures the anxiety, the ennui, the claustrophobia we’ve all been cycling through. Yet in its playful three-way duel between O’Connell, Handy, and Jordan, it also has a glimmer of hope. “We have to remain optimistic in the crazy time we’re going through,” says O’Connell. “Sun For Sonny” is a tip-of-the-hat to the great Sonny Rollins who once employed each member of the trio. The calypso groove and “St. Thomas” quote in O’Connell’s melody was your answer. It’s also suitably (for a Rollins tribute) percussive—with Martinez returning and Goines switching to the electric bass—and suitably sunny and danceable. After Handy and O’Connell reinforce that feeling in their solos, Goines and Martinez double down on it with two rounds of upbeat funk.
“Moment’s Notice”, which opens the album, is filled with nuance, immediacy and harmonic intrigue. The group takes the classic piece into funk territory which O’Connell indicates is about not wasting valuable resources. “Steve Jordan is one of the greatest funk drummers on the earth. If I didn’t have him playing some funk in there, it’s almost a crime.” For their solos, however, O’Connell, Goines, and Jordan ease off the gas a bit; there’s still plenty of swing, but also plenty of space.” The Sam Cooke anthem for which this album is titled “A Change is Gonna Come” arrives in an arrangement that O’Connell first wrote years ago for Charles Fambrough. It’s charged with gospel but also a surprising delicacy: a vulnerable aspect that tempers the song’s built-in resolve. If anything, the issues the song grappled with 60 years ago have only intensified since. The pianist takes centerstage with a jubilant solo on “My Foolish Heart” which once again features Jordan’s brilliant funk drumming within a sublime arrangement by O’Connell.
As jazz journalist Michael J. West remarks in the album’s liner notes “It’s what artists do: process the darker aspects of our lives and world into something beautiful and worth holding on to. If it’s true that a change is gonna come, it will be all of us who will have to make it. But it will be the gifts of people like Bill O’Connell who shine their lights on the path to that change.”
"Best known as an inspired hybridizer of modernist jazz and Afrodiasporic idioms as an improviser and composer, Bill O’Connell moves in a funkier, Black American music direction on Change Is Gonna Come.." Read the review here.
BLUES IN THE NIGHT
Listen to Episode 127, featuring Grammy-nominated pianist Bill O'Connell here.
A review of the pianist's album that is a response to the political, racial, and pandemic-related upheaval faced over the past two years. Read it here.
GEORGE W. HARRIS
"Self-imposed solitude brings out interesting aspects of one’s thought processes." Read the review here.
THE NEW YORK CITY JAZZ RECORD
"Boasting a brilliant cast, sharp writing, strong and stylistically varied performances and meaningful commentary on our current condition(s), A Change Is Gonna Come shows O’Connell at his well-rounded best.." Read the complete review in the May 2022 issue here.
"here he proves he’s still got the chops for a timeless jazz outing and that he certainly warranted his recent Grammy Nomination" Read the complete review here.
Read the complete review in the August 2022 issue of Jazzwise Magazine.