Peter Leitch Quartet – California Concert – Jazz House 7004, 76:16 ****:

(Peter Leitch – guitar; John Hicks – piano; David Williams – bass; Billy Higgins – drums)

Peter Leitch is a guitarist who was born in Ottawa Canada and raised in Montreal, where he first honed his skills on his chosen instrument. However since the early 1980s Leitch has been based in New York City where he developed his performing and recording career which featured his long swinging lines that were integral to his singular recognizable style. This release California Concert which was originally a bootleg recording by a fan and subsequently re-mastered (although well-done there is still a hollowness and lack of clarity to the sound) captures his quartet in full form and is a fitting remembrance of both Hicks and Higgins, both of whom have died since this recording was made in 1999.

As this concert was never meant to be recorded, all the tracks are of exceptional length since airplay was never intended. The musicians took full advantage of this as they engaged in extended solos and interplay which would, of necessity, have been reduced if standard recording norms had been followed. Setting the tone for what is to come, the band leads off with the Charlie Parker bop opus “Relaxin’ At Camarillo” with Leitch at the forefront demonstrating his dramatic resolve and capacious ideas. Hicks is no less prominent showing his pianistic skill and freshness. Drummer Higgins takes on extended solo where he covers his drum kit with timbre and tone. The Billy Strayhorn/Duke Ellington composition “Isfahan” is lovingly rendered and Walter Booker’s “Book’s Bossa” is Latin-filled delight.

Both John Hicks and Peter Leitch contributed compositions to this session with “After The Morning” coming from Hicks and “A Blues For Ivan Symons” being Leitch’s effort. In the case of the former Hicks takes center stage as he works over the keyboard showcasing his lively concepts and orderly sense of expression. Each of the other band members pitches in with authority and technical confidence demonstrating the collaborative nature of the group. The latter composition was written for Montreal guitarist Ivan Symons who also owned a now defunct club in Montreal called the Jazz Bar and where Symons was a presence every night. The composition is a blues in name only as it skips along at a brisk pace, thereby giving Leitch a frame on which to build his solos which are filled with resilient punch, jagged melodic lines, and multifaceted coherence. Sometimes good things come from a bad bootleg.

TrackList: Relaxin’ At Camarillo; Isfahan; Book’s Bossa; After The Morning; In A Sentimental Mood/Warm Valley; A Blues For Ivan Symonds/Theme

—Pierre Giroux