Historically, the term Latin jazz has been used to describe a mixture of hard bop or post-bop and Afro-Cuban rhythms (son, cha-cha, mambo, guaguancó, danzón, etc.). But Latin music is more than Afro-Cuban music; it's also everything from Argentinean tango to Spanish flamenco to Mexican mariachi. So technically, someone who fuses jazz with tango or flamenco (or Brazilian samba, for that matter) is playing some form of Latin jazz. The Latin Jazz Fantasy that pianist Bill O'Connell shares with listeners on this 2003 date is primarily an Afro-Cuban jazz fantasy -- and yet, Latin Jazz Fantasy isn't stereotypical Afro-Cuban jazz in the way that Tito Puente, Poncho Sanchez, Cal Tjader, Eddie Palmieri, and Mongo Santamaria have epitomized Afro-Cuban jazz. Latin Jazz Fantasy doesn't contain any bolero versions of "My Funny Valentine"; O'Connell doesn't provide son, cha-cha, or mambo arrangements of Sonny Rollins or Miles Davis pieces. Leading a variety of post-bop groups -- sometimes a lavish orchestra, sometimes trios, duos, quartets, or quintets -- O'Connell doesn't beat listeners over the head with Afro-Cuban rhythms. Instead, he applies them in a very subtle fashion on original material that ranges from the cerebral "Wind It Up" to the melancholy "After the Dust Settled" to the playfully funky "Fast Eddie" (which has a definite Weather Report/Joe Zawinul influence and underscores the fact that fusion can affect acoustic-oriented post-bop projects -- at least compositionally). O'Connell incorporates Afro-Cuban music the way he incorporates European classical: with restraint, understatement, and subtlety. Anyone who expects Latin Jazz Fantasy to use Afro-Cuban rhythms in as overt and obvious a way as a typical Sanchez album is bound to be disappointed, but for those who appreciate and understand the album's overall concept -- post-bop with subtle Euro-classical and Latin references -- Latin Jazz Fantasy is easy to enjoy.
AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson