Connor O’Neill : The Same Changes, Vol. II Review
Jazz guitarist and composer Connor O’Neill’s offering, The Same Changes, Vol. II, is an album with a journey into the heart of contemporary jazz. It is led by a guitarist whose skills and sensibilities refine the music and bring a new perspective to the jazz tradition. Released on August 26, 2023, and self-produced, this album begins in Philadelphia’s vibrant creative music scene, showcasing O’Neill as a guitarist, composer, and producer. With a rich background that includes a master’s degree in jazz studies and numerous accolades, O’Neill’s career is marked by a deep commitment to the craft of music and the community of artists with whom he collaborates.
The ensemble accompanying O’Neill on this album—Alex Delcourt on bass, Steven Perry on drums, Morgan Walbridge on vibraphone, Mervin Toussaint on alto saxophone, Jessica Cantone’s voice, and Micah Graves on piano—brings together a group of musicians whose chemistry and interaction elevate the compositions to a level of sublime communication. Each track serves as a vehicle of this synergy, with moments that allow for individual expression while maintaining a cohesive narrative throughout each composition.
“Disordinance,” featuring Walbridge, sets the stage with its contemplative mood, reflecting on the chaos within harmony and the search for order. O’Neill’s guitar work, rich in color and warm in tone, pairs magnificently with Walbridge’s vibraphone, creating an entertaining and musical dialogue. The lyrical bass solo by Delcourt and the thematic interplay underscore O’Neill’s ability to craft pieces that are as emotionally engaging as they are technically impressive.
In “Another Moment Reconciled,” the ensemble’s dynamics shine through a contemporary jazz ballad that blends elements of fusion with a modern rhythmic structure. O’Neill’s warm and clear guitar tone stands at the forefront, supported by a groove that highlights the ensemble’s ability to listen and respond to one another. The piece is a showcase of O’Neill’s elegant melodic sense and the group’s cohesive dynamics, offering a nuanced exploration of the song’s thematic material.
“Gears” introduces Mervin Toussaint’s alto saxophone into the mix, adding a new layer of expressive depth to the album. The composition’s gentle swing and the ensemble’s textural richness highlight O’Neill’s compositional creativity and the group’s adeptness at navigating complex musical settings. Toussaint’s solo, rooted in modern jazz vocabulary, complements O’Neill’s guitar lines and the ensemble’s rhythmic foundation.
“Early Departure” delves into themes of loss and transformation through a technique O’Neill describes as “chromatic wandering.” The song’s evolving soundscapes and Jon Williams’ intimate lyrics offer a poignant meditation on change and acceptance. The ensemble’s sensitivity to the composition’s emotional weight allows for a personal and universal performance.
“Singularity,” with Micah Graves on piano, and “Jade” further demonstrates the ensemble’s versatility and O’Neill’s innovative approach to composition. Along with the rest of the album, these tracks encapsulate a modern jazz aesthetic informed by tradition yet unafraid to explore new territories. O’Neill’s guitar playing, both as a soloist and as part of the ensemble, is a highlight, offering an understanding of dynamics, tone, and expressive phrasing.
The Same Changes, Vol. II is a collection of jazz compositions woven through moments of introspection, collaboration, and creative exploration. O’Neill and his ensemble have created an album that speaks to the power of an ensemble of the same spirit and the transformative power of listening and communicating with each other. With this release, Connor O’Neill invites listeners to join him on a journey grounded in the genre’s tradition, community, and emotions.
The Same Changes, Vol. II
August 26, 2023