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  • Writer's pictureJAM

Chalis O’Neal: Flirting

Updated: Jan 8, 2022

Trumpeter/composer/bandleader Chalis O’Neal and crew bring a bright new, contemporary album to light—one that is lively and strong both instrumentally and in terms of sung and spoken word. For those stuck at home, it is just what the doctor ordered. For those now out and about, it’s an appetizer (and keepsake) to what you can and should go hear live in our area KC clubs.

The album blends both old and new, from swung legacy jazz tunes to jazz in its many contemporary forms. It has a unified feel, though, branching gracefully. And, as a bonus, all of the songs minus two are originals written by O’Neal. So, it’s new music.

One remarkable tune, “Spitting Game,” begins with an impressive acrobatic intro solo by O’Neal on trumpet, and then gets funky. Early on, we hear the words, “Hey, girl. What’s your name?” and the tune then progresses into a very contemporary instrumental serenade that later includes hip hop spoken word interludes. Nothing about the spoken word and music combo seems forced; it’s a natural combo. Perhaps it is a glimpse of jazz to come.

It’s hip. It’s sexy. It’s fun.

Also, among the stand-out tracks is “La Tienda De Regalos,” which features KC artist/performer Jessica Ayala on both vocals and spoken word poetry. It’s a perfect pairing and collaboration, and a natural one. Sung and spoken in a combo of Spanish and English, the tune is lively and danceable, and appeals to the heart, feet, and brain. The spoken word portion includes the passage: We fly. / We shine. / May we remember we are designed / exclusively to shine…You who are made of gold / bold…/ Let us adjust our crowns…/ Speak out loud to the Universe: ‘I am made of gold.’” The breaks include some rousing trumpet work by O’Neal, brassy, warm, and bold, with Ayala’s voice trilling in the background.

Although I’ve singled out the spoken word/instrumental music combos, the album’s all-instrumental tracks are also a joy. All are lively. And the spirit of the album is cohesive, shifting from tunes with words to instrumental tunes seamlessly, like a fast car in tip-top condition, moving swiftly from one gear to the next without a single tick or lurch.

For those new to O’Neal, he is a strong energetic member of the KC scene, born and raised in KCMO, a student at Paseo Academy and UMKC, who went on to perform with an assortment of jazz luminaries, both regional and national, including Bobby Watson, Curtis Lundy, his older brother Harold O’Neal, and vocalist Lisa Henry. The album features KC personnel: O’Neal on trumpet, Desmond Mason on piano and keyboards, Tim Ogutu on electric bass, Brad Williams on drums—along with feature appearances by Amber "Flutienastiness" Underwood on flute and Jessica Ayala and Les Izmore on vocals and spoken word.

This is a lively album, and it helps trace part of the path ahead, when it comes to the continuing influence of KC jazz. Get it. You won’t be disappointed.

—Kevin Rabas

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