J.R. Monterose – Live In Albany 1979 – Uptown Records UPCD27.80, 74:14 ****:

(J.R. Monterose – tenor sax; Hod O’Brien – piano; Teddy Kotick – bass; Eddie Robinson – drums)

For some reason the tenor saxophonists J.R. Monterose and Jack Montrose are occasionally/frequently confused with one another. That state of affairs would disappear immediately upon hearing each one play. Jack Montrose was a West Coast musician with a flat tone and pithy phrasing, while J.R. Monterose was an East Coast hard bopper with a muscular style and full-throated tone. The Monterose affect is on full display on this re-release of an original 1979 LP on Uptown Records but with three additional tracks.

To say that J.R. Monterose was a peripatetic musician, who lead a complicated and unregulated life would be an understatement.

However, regardless where Monterose’s playing took him, the Albany-Utica area of upstate New York were his touchstones, hence this recording at Lark Tavern in Albany NY on May 8,1979. A generous description of the venue would be “a dive”. But Monterose was at home here, and backed by a trio of sympathetic musicians, with whom he was familiar, gave him the confidence to lead the session which he had not done for some twenty years.

The seven tracks of this session are made up of mostly well-know standards or jazz numbers, with two originals by Monterose thrown in for good measure. All are offered in extended time versions as benefits a live session, thus giving the players plenty of chance to stretch out. While there may be moments when Monterose seems to be tentative in his approach, and there is some wavering in his solos, on the whole he shows a command on his horn, avoids cliches, and develops his ideas with free-flowing confidence. On the Thelonious Monk composition “Ruby My Dear” Monterose navigates the challenging chord changes with ease, and has direct approach to exploring the fringes of the composition. O’Brien was bop-oriented pianist whose solo demonstrated expressive shrewdness, and strong technical grounding. Teddy Kotick was one of Charlie Parker’s favourite bass players, who had a big tone and was an exemplarly time-keeper, chips in with a well-thought-out solo.

On John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” Monterose sidesteps the potential pitfall of trying to emulate Coltrane’s breakneck speed version in the opening run-through and settles for a more moderate tempo, but still manages to get to the heart of the tune with his own fresh ideas. O’Brien shows melodic preciseness and curiosity in his solo, coupled with a full command of the keyboard. Kotick’s bass work is economical and sure-footed. As the tune closes out, Monterose picks up the pace and produces his own torrent of notes to match Coltrane’s version. As for the other numbers in this session, they all bear the same imprimatur of the solid work by each of the band members, and are not diminished with repeated listening. Of those musicians who were involved in this recording, only pianist Hod O’Brien survives at close to eighty years old. He continues to play regularly and recently had a gig at Mezzrow Jazz Club in New York.

Finally, a tip of the hat to Dr. Robert Sunenblick, who not only produced this release, but wrote the exemplarly and informative liner notes on J.R. Montrose and the genesis of this recording.

TrackList: The Shadow Of Your Smile; Ruby My Dear; Just Friends; Lu-An; Green Street Scene; I Should Care; Giant Steps

—Pierre Giroux