|Spanish-born pianist Tete Montoliu is from the generation of European post-war jazz musicians that successfully made the transition from being well intended copyists of American stars to being distinctive soloists in their own right. Born in 1933, his first musical training was classical; at age 13, he had an opportunity to practice and perform with Don Byas during the great tenor man's sojourn in Montoliu's hometown of Barcelona. By the mid nineteen-fifties, when Montoliu began working regularly as a jazz musician, many nations in the European community had produced first-class improvisors that reflected the music's truly international scope: Germany's Albert Manglesdorff, France's BarneyWilen, Belgium's Bobby Jas-par, Austria's Hans Koller, Great Britain's Tubby Hayes, and Sweden's Lars Gullin are notable examples.
These artists performed in now legendary jazz nightspots scattered across the capitals of Europe. At Copenhagen's Cafe Montmartre, Scandinavia's most important jazz club, Montoliu was house pianist in the early sixties, and as such was the pianist of choice for visiting American masters such as Rahsaar. Roland Kirk, Archie Shepp and Kenny Dorham. Of greatest significance. Dexter Gordon, whose extended stays at the club initially brought it to prominence, provided the musical guidance that transformed the Montmartre house unit from three able rhythm musicians into a world class rhythm section. After leaving the Montmartre, Montoliu built his reputation as a leader, composer and melodically adventurous improvisor. Since the mid seventies, his impeccable taste and technique have been featured in a series of solo and trio recordings; this album can be considered to be an update of the state of Montoliu's art and the art of the rhythm section as it exists at the start of the nineties.
Bassist George Mraz emigrated to the West from Czechoslovakia in 1968. One of his first important associations was with the Thad Jones/Me! Lewis Orchestra; today, one of his primary gigs is with Tommy Flanagan's trio, whose book incidentally contains a number of Jones classics. Drummer Lewis Nash, hailing from Denver, is also at present a member of the Flanagan unit. He was a protege of Betty Carter's in the early eighties, after which his employers included Ron Carter, Branford Marsalis and Sonny Rollins.
In the past, Montoliu has integrated Catalonian music into his own Jazz originals, and beginning this disc with the famous theme from the second movement of Rodrigo's Concerto
De Aranjuez, he calls forth a musical remembrance of his native land. Of course, that same theme was the inspiration for Miles Davis' masterpiece 'Sketches Of Spain', and indeed, all of the standards heard on this disc were recorded by Davis in the fifties and early sixties (the pianist even uses Davis' adaption of the bridge to Benny Carter's 'When Lights Are Low'). The readings and tempi of 'Stella By Starlight' and 'Autumn Leaves' recall Bill Evans' trio arrangements, yet the fluid lines are unmistakably Montoliu's, with a touch of Monk used to spice the fours with drummer Nash. Perhaps Montoliu's most forceful playing is reserved for the John Lewis classic 'Django', where the contrast between the opening lament and the driving second theme is far greater than in any version by the original composer. Mraz gets the theme statement and his most prominent solo on 'I Fall In Love Too Easily', while he and drummer Nash provide the highlights on 'Tune Up'. The traditional tune 'For You My Love' reveals Montoliu's rhapsodic flair, and his original, 'Please I Like To Be Gentle', begins as a gentle ballad for solo piano that evolves into a trio blues, concluding the disc with a soulful evocation of the spirit of jazz.
Recorded at Angel Studio, Lisbon, Portugal, 30 October 1990