Don’t let the wistful title or the impressionistic cover painting give you the wrong impression. And Then It Rained by the newly formed Bay Area ensemble of regional greats The Michael O’Neill Quartet, offers a generous mix of moody, sensual ballads (“Emerging Impressions”), lyrical whimsical gems (“Early Spring”), swinging and freewheeling Latin cookers (“Port of Spain,” “Mavericks Samba”).
A clarinetist and multi-saxophonist nonpareil, O’Neill has been a mainstay at countless venues in the region (including at 13-year stint at the Ritz Carlton in Half Moon Bay) for years, in addition to composing for National Geographic and Discovery Channel shows. Yet until forming this quartet featuring pianist Michael Bluestein, drummer Jason Lewis and acoustic bassist Dan Feiszli, his solo albums featured high profile vocalists (including Santana singer Tony Lindsay and local legend Kenny Washington) interpreting jazz standards.
And Then It Rained is the first time O’Neill shares the creative wealth of his own compositions, and each tune – from “Song from Mama Bear,” a tender tribute to a jazz fan, to “One for Kenny,” dedicated to Mr. Washington – has a thoughtful anecdote behind its inspiration. O’Neill kindly shares this wit and wisdom in his liner notes. These descriptions are engaging, but you don’t have to know that “Suite Iris” is dedicated to a colorful Greek landlord (who encouraged O’Neill early on) to appreciate the tune’s rambunctious, bustling joy.
Truly a revelation, And Then It Rained at last establishes O’Neill as a great jazz composer as well as an interpreter – with the hopeful promise of more originals to come from his powerhouse quartet in the near future.