Live preview: Harold O'Neal

A pianist equally at home in jazz and hip-hop shows off his exquisite mood pieces.

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Harold O'Neal

Harold O'Neal Photograph: Luke Kaven

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Pianist Robert Glasper, earning well-deserved raves lately for his Black Radio LP, titled a 2009 record Double Booked, a reference to dual citizenship in the realms of jazz and rap. Harold O'Neal, another piano man of the same generation, shares Glasper's conundrum; the Kansas City--raised local showed off his postbop skills on 2010's strong Whirling Mantis, and lately has been heard alongside MC Ski Beatz in hip-hop collective the Senseis. (Offstage, O'Neal excels at kickboxing, break dancing and shiatsu massage.) But while Glasper pushes ever closer to a seamless jazz-soul hybrid studded with guest stars, O'Neal has taken a quieter, more introspective route.

During an initial spin, O'Neal's 2011 Smalls Records solo set, Marvelous Fantasy—which O'Neal supports at tonight's half-unaccompanied, half-quartet show—barely registered. Upon reinvestigation, though, the album bloomed handsomely. It's a disc full of mood pieces, too rare and delicate to simply be termed ballads; on the best of them, such as "Marvelous Fantasy (Roughenstein)," O'Neal sounds like he's accompanying a pair of imaginary dancers, willing every swoony embrace and brief, tender parting with his flowing rubato motifs. Nostalgia suffuses pieces like "The Lovers," but the feeling is a magic carpet rather than a deadweight; O'Neal's playing would've been a great match for another shadowy fantasist, the late Paul Motian, who called one of his last records Lost in a Dream. If this pianist is double-booked, it doesn't show in his consummately relaxed reveries.

Follow Hank Shteamer on Twitter: @DarkForcesSwing

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