Connor O’Neill, The Same Changes, Vol II Review
Thematic Exploration: The Same Changes, Vol II by Connor O’Neill
by Ferell Aubre
From the storied jazz history of Philadelphia’s ever-expanding creative jazz scene emerges Connor O’Neill, a guitarist, and composer whose multi-dimensional artistry stretches beyond mere musicianship. With a master’s degree in jazz studies, prestigious awards, and an unquenchable thirst for musical exploration, O’Neill has crafted an identity not only as a player but also as a producer, sound engineer, and dedicated educator.
In the continuum of his creative odyssey, The Same Changes, Vol II resonates as an evolved sequel to the equally captivating “Vol I.” This collection of entirely original compositions and arrangements is more than a mere album; it is a universe of experiences, reflections, and existential inquiries molded into a temporal musical journey.
Much like the first volume, The Same Changes, Vol II acts as a vessel for O’Neill’s personal narratives, allowing listeners to navigate through the corners of his consciousness. But where “Vol I” may have danced on the surface, The Same Changes, Vol II plunges into the depths. It’s a brave confrontation with the self, touching upon themes of depression, doubt, and insecurity.
O’Neill’s belief in the transformative power of negative experiences acts as the philosophical underpinning of this work, turning the pain into a “forging fire” that leads to self-improvement and artistic maturity. It’s a poignant verification of resilience and an affirmation of life’s cyclical nature.
The ensemble of performers, including Alex Delcourt (bass), Steven Perry (drums), Morgan Walbridge (vibraphone), Mervin Toussaint (alto saxophone), Jessica Cantone (voice), and Micah Graves (piano), brings life to O’Neill’s compositions with a delicate balance of virtuosity and empathy.
O’Neill’s multifaceted skillset as a sound engineer adds to the authenticity and idiosyncrasy of this album. His hands-on approach in previous works with artists like Mervin Toussaint and Lora Sherrodd affirms his inventiveness in crafting unique sonic landscapes.
An attention grabbing opener that is at once contemplative and chaotic, “Disordinance” is marked by a beautiful interplay between musicians. Walbridge’s haunting vibraphone sets a spectral tone that permeates the entire composition. Delcourt’s bass solo, building and lyrical, connects deeply with Walbridge’s thematic exploration, while O’Neill’s rich, colorful accompaniment elevates the piece to ethereal realms. The choice of an ethereal and motif-focused guitar solo instead of an excessive one reveals O’Neill’s maturity in composition and execution. It’s an exquisite tapestry of sound that unites theme, character, and mood, offering listeners a labyrinthine journey through harmony’s complexities.
In the heart-wrenching ballad “Early Departure,” O’Neill muses on the inexorable passage of time and the transient nature of life. Vocalist Jessica Cantone joins the ensemble to sign the poignant lines, ‘Fret not, for time carries all / Days are long / And nights fade to emptiness,’ reflect not only a mournful acceptance of change and loss but also a mature understanding of life’s constant evolution. This lyric encapsulates O’Neill’s broader philosophical exploration of transformation, embracing the bittersweet reality of life’s impermanence while finding solace in ‘Sweet memories.’
“Fret not, for time carries all
Days are long
And nights fade to emptiness
All that to say there’s nothing left
If you take all that I am
Know I’ll understand if you leave my heart
Fret not, we’ve always got
“Singularity” is built on the new textures of modern jazz’s evolution, encapsulating contemporary influences, energy, and atmosphere. The minor modal landscape is a perfect backdrop for the lyrical melody, around which O’Neill’s guitar solo develops towards a climax. Micah Graves’ exploration on the piano is a complex dance of dissonant and resolving harmonic figures, filled with cross-rhythms and vivid colors. This musical conversation between O’Neill, Perry, Delcourt, and Graves demonstrates an acute sense of ensemble unity, creativity, and the shared pursuit of artistic expression.
In these three highlighted pieces, we witness not only O’Neill’s multifaceted talent but also his profound connection with the musicians he’s chosen for this journey. Together, they’ve crafted something that transcends ordinary musical boundaries, offering listeners a complex, reflective experience that resonates long after the final note has been played.
In conclusion, The Same Changes, Vol II by Connor O’Neill is a musical odyssey that weaves intricate sonic landscapes with human experiences and emotions. Whether through the haunting melodies, intimate storytelling, or the deep interplay between musicians, this album is bound to leave an indelible mark on anyone who listens. It’s a celebration of jazz as a dynamic and evolving art form, reflecting both the tradition and the innovative spirit of modern jazz.