July 15, 2001
By David Royko
Mark O'Connor: Hot Swing! (OMAC)
Even if the critical verdict is still out -- and may always be -- on Mark O'Connor's true value in the classical world, in the milieu of "Hot Swing" he is simply the top dog. Nobody in the history of jazz fiddle has ever played with the technical assurance of O'Connor, and he has been a brilliant, and soulful improviser since he was a teenager. This disc harkens back to his teen-hood, when O'Connor was guitarist in the David Grisman Quintet during the period when that ensemble collaborated with jazz violin giant Stephane Grappelli. A decade later, Grappelli joined O'Connor for a couple more tunes on his fine "Heroes" CD, but this time out, O'Connor has produced an entire disc in tribute to his spiritual jazz fiddling mentor. Backed with driving finesse by bassist Jon Burr and guitarist Frank Vignola, this live set has a definite whiff of the Quintet of the Hot Club of France about it, with O'Connor's fire and heart-on-the-sleeve emotional involvement rendering this not only one of the finest discs of his career, but one of the greatest jazz violin albums ever. Grappelli, who died four years go, would have blushed with pride.