Contemporary Jazz Reviews
by Jeff Charney
Michael O'Neill - Never Too Late (Merrimack)
The debut of guitarist Michael O'Neill is fresh, hip and very
enjoyable. He is a longtime member of George Benson's band
whom he toured extensively with from 1981-90 and 1994 to
present. O'Neill has spent a lot of time in the studio and touring
over the last 20 years for some of the biggest names in music:
Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Maurice White, George Benson,
Crusaders, Chick Corea, Buddy Guy and Santana, Ronnie Laws,
Hubert Laws, Sadao Watanabe, Rickie Lee Jones, Manhattan
Transfer, Boney James, Jonathan Butler and Peter White. The
CD kicks off with the first single - the title track. A medium
tempo head-bopping tune co-written by Gregg Karukas. Nice
hook and nice melody. Other highlights include a gorgeous version
of Stevie Wonder's "Visions", another collaboration with Karukas
on a pretty Spanish-influenced piece called "Echoes Of Seville," an
uptempo romp on "I Ain't Lyin'" which features Walt Fowler, a
typical smooth jazz piece called "Winds Of Summer," and another
head-bopper called "Passages." Special guests on this project include
Karukas, Carl Anderson, Bobby Lyle, Freddy Ravel and Alphonso
Johnson. Never Too Late is worth your money and attention.
Michael O'Neill: Press
This is a superb recording with refreshingly new compositions, several of which were played on my previous Jazz Programme, and were very well received. Melodic,good tempo and a nice variation in genres, the influence of Wes Montgomery and Barney Kessel is apparent but this does not detract from Mr. O'Neill's distinctive style. Excellent and highly skilled Musicianship is apparent throughout, and this is a class act. I hope we hear more of Mr O'Neill in the future. Full marks to all involved with this recording. Best Regards. John Reid. Keith Community Radio 102.8 FM Keith. Banffshire. SCOTLAND
Greetings Michael O'Neill from radio station PBS 106-7 FM Melbourne Australia. We are the cities leading Jazz station and have been for the majority of our 31 years. I have just received your stunning cd "Touch The Past". Sublimly understated relient on your stunning virtuosity with the guitar of which the years of playing shine through on every track. Your compositions and arrangements are certainly a showcase for your all round talent. This certainly is a cd to savour and l for one fell in love with the album. Now it is the turn of our listeners when l now pass this over to one of our leading Jazz shows, "On The Corner" with Dan Nilsson Sunday 8 to 10pm webcasting live at www.pbsfm.org.au exquisite music. regards peter merrett
This CD could also have been titled "Groove Fiesta". Simply said it is to me a textbook example of what contemporary jazz is all about. Michael O'Neill created a masterpiece and his songwriting reached new heights. His tone and playing is wonderful. On this album, O'Neill found his true voice. He definitively will show that he belongs to the best. His music is a fantastic mix of jazz, funk, soul and R&B. None of the songs are boring. On the contrary they are all very exciting. "Funky Fiesta" and "The Journey" being two of the many high points. Super music from a superb guitar player. "Funky Fiesta" is THE album of the year in my book. Outstanding ! Thanks !!!!
Nearly 10 years ago, veteran sideman Michael O'Neill had the seed planted for him to become a solo artist when he was onstage at Carnegie Hall as part of a world tour with singer Rickie Lee Jones in support of her 1991 Top Pop album.
Like most guys who make a great living jamming behind bigger stars, O'Neill -whose resume boasts a few years in the 1980s with Stevie Wonder and a near-nonstop two decades with George Benson - had trouble carving out the time and space to compose and produce an album's worth of material. His muse kept pecking away at him until he felt confident and made the time. The one advantage to waiting some 20-odd years to create the appropriately titled Never Too Late (Merrimack) is the wealth of stylistic influences he's absorbed along the way.
It's easy to identify these influences on a track-by-track basis on Never Too Late. The title track - co-written with keyboardist Gregg Karukas - finds O'Neill approximating the crisp electric style of Benson - high tones flutter and dart off the main melody as wah-wah click textures call out in the background. Ditto the mid-tempo, retro-soul ballad "Winds of Summer," which opens with a brisk hook that recalls Benson's "Breezin'." Pianist Dave Witham (another vet from the Benson crew) chimes in at one point with a quick but playful solo before O'Neill digs into a solo that slowly builds steam.
O'Neill pays homage to Stevie Wonder, too, playing things fairly close to the vest on a thoughtful cover of "Visions" with vocals by Carl Anderson. "I Ain't Lyin' " dips into that Crusaders spirit, opening with a dense swirl of percussion by trapsman Land Richards and Dio Saucedo's tambourine. O'Neill then launches into a rocking electric guitar melody over the bluesy organ harmony of Chris Ho, with plenty of Wayne Henderson-like horn hits provided by Walt Fowler. Mid-tempo meditations like "Sidewalk Strut" and the Brazilian-flavored acoustic piece "Cruisin' On Down" (featuring O'Neill's lively scatting) offer more evidence of the guitarist's ability to please the listener's ear while stretching stylistic boundaries.
--- Jonathan Widran, JAZZIZ Magazine Copyright © 2000, Milor Entertainment, Inc.
Michael O’Neill | Green Bean Records
By Javier AQ Ortiz
When Michael O'Neill isn't touring with George Benson he does his thing and Touch the Past is his thing. For this Yamaha-sponsored guitarist, the recording is a compliment to the so-called Blue Note era of jazz. His radio-friendly songs, however, don't seem to dwell much in the past, and are very much in the here and now, as this is certainly not a Blue Note production; it's O'Neill through and through.
O'Neill is a wise and mature performer who knows when and how to lead, while always being a paradigmatic team player. He's artistically comfortable with himself. He's also unafraid of melodic beauty, economy of expression, and harmonic simplicity. Perhaps the title cut illustrates these points as well as any other in the CD. Supported by Walt Fowler on flugelhorn, “Touch the Past” features the leader, beginning on a somewhat nostalgic note, as an intro, and moving to a relaxed swing that allows Fowler and O'Neill to massage and caress the pentagram with their respectively welcoming and handsome tones.
In fact, a relaxed, sweet--albeit not cloying, and smooth-yet-textural enough to avoid being just slippery--swing characterizes the entire production. “Blue Chill,” with the kissing, kissable, juicy, sensuous, bluesy voice of Lynee Fiddmont, begins deep in the blues, as an intro to the finger snapping scat and O'Neill's delicious solo, followed by an equally delectable piano turn by Chris Ho, while the guitarist's comping is par for the course.
”Just for the Moment” is a well-written ballad, where the pairing of guitar and tenor sax romances the senses, playfully and effectively. O'Neill chose his partners for this date very well, and seems to have written the material taking them into account. Aside from anything else of worth showcased in this release, the guitarist has excellent technique and ideas, a convivial sound and the knowledge to play what the music calls for, in the manner that should be played.
Track Listing: If You Dare; Smooth Sailin; Just for the Moment; Blue Chill; Indiansong; Get on Up; Touch the Past; Constant Seabreeze; Playa Bonita.
Personnel: Michael O'Neill: guitars, keyboards; Chris Ho: piano; Matt Van Benshoten: bass; Dave Rennick: drums; Larry Williams: tenor sax (3); Lynee Fiddmont: vocal (4); Walt Fowler: flugelhorn (7).