Jeremy Monteiro has come a long way since starting out as a professional jazz pianist when not quite seventeen, back in 1977. As a leader, he's recorded over twenty albums, though it wasn't until Homecoming (Jazznote, 2007) that he released one of all-original compositions. A fine interpreter of The Great American Songbook, Monteiro is also a notable composer in his own right, as this compilation, Golden Year Inaugural Volume 1, demonstrates. Released as part of his fiftieth birthday celebration, the original material here stretches from his much vaunted Montreux appearance in 1988 to a performance in Borneo in June, 2010. Whether playing a blues, a lilting samba or soul-inflected jazz, or heating up the keys on a straight-ahead workout, Monteiro's music always swings.
Essentially a romantic at heart, strong melodies and a core lyricism are common to all of Monteiro's compositions. On "Orchard Road," one of two tracks co-written by saxophone great Ernie Watts, the beautiful melody is stated by the tenorist, and buoyed by Charlie Haden's rich bass tones and Al Foster's surprisingly understated drumming. Monteiro's solo is light and dancing, and the mood is matched by Watts, whose solo possesses a singing quality. The same quartet swings its way through Monteiro/Watts' "No Mystery," with the pianist's strong chords carrying the melody before he loosens up with some impressively fluid runs, with Watts, in turn, following suit.
"Carousel from a Child's Mind" is an adrenalin-charged performance from the aforementioned appearance at Montreux, described at the time by festival director Claude Nobbs as "an unforgettable set, which will remain a classic of the first twenty-two years of Montreux." Soprano saxophonist John Stubblefield's solo reaches ecstatic heights, and the quartet is clearly in the zone, as first guitarist ODonel Levy and then Monteiro carve out inspired solos, driven by the fiery playing of bassist Eldee Young and drummer Redd Holt.
Four of the album's ten tracks come from Homecoming, (Jazznote Records, 2007), one of Monteiro's strongest recordings to date. The passionate, smoldering "Inner Voice" again features Watts, with the sympathetic rhythm section of drummer Shawn Kelley and bassist Belinda Moody keeping things tight but loose. Moody co-wrote "Blues for Ray," a wonderful tribute to Ray Charles and a truly evocative rendering of the spirit of Charles' gospel-infused blues. A little of Charles' church-inspired music colors the lovely "One Nation, One People, One Singapore," something of an unofficial anthem in Monteiro's country.
"Soliloquy" features Monteiro on Nord C1 organ ripping up some funk in Borneo, at the Kota Kinabalu Jazz Festival 2010, supported by two young stars in the making: guitarist Andrew Lim and drummer Chanutr Tachatana-nan. This performance shows Monteiro flexing his considerable chops in a different musical environment, though in an idiom he clearly relishes.
There's enough quality material here to suggest that Monteiro may yet go down the same road as Ahmad Jamal, and concentrate more on original music, as opposed to the standards repertoire. Whatever road he takes, he'll go swinging all the way.
Orchard Road; Carousel in a Child's Mind; MYH Blues; Inner Voice; No Mystery; One People, One Nation, One Singapore; Samba Appasionta; Blues for Ray; Soliloquy; Lorna's Kitchen.
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