J.R. Monterose: J.R. Monterose

Clifford Allen By

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J.R. Monterose
J.R. Monterose
Blue Note

Tenor saxophonist J.R. Monterose (Frank Anthony Monterose, Jr.) made only two appearances on Blue Note, both in 1956—one with trumpeter Kenny Dorham's Jazz Prophets recorded live at the Café Bohemia and the other as a leader of his own crack hard bop unit. It was an early ascendancy for Monterose, who had recorded with bassist Charles Mingus, vibraphonist Teddy Charles, and worked in the big bands of arranger Claude Thornhill and drummer Buddy Rich. But unlike tenor players Sonny Rollins, Hank Mobley and Tina Brooks, Monterose wouldn't make a home (and barely a sonic dent) on Alfred Lion's label, much less in New York. He was soon back in his hometown of Utica and not long for a European sojourn that lasted most of the rest of his life.

Presumably, it had nothing to do with Monterose's abilities that his time with Blue Note was so brief; rather, a loss of the proverbial cabaret card scuttled his appearances in the city and his ability to make work. On this program of three originals and readings of tunes by session drummer Philly Joe Jones, Paul Chambers and Donald Byrd, he's joined by scene regulars in pianist Horace Silver and Jones, as well as Chicagoans bassist Wilbur Ware and multi-instrumentalist Ira Sullivan. Sullivan is heard here on trumpet, but also had baritone, alto saxophone and flute in his arsenal.

Perhaps one reason Monterose's name isn't mentioned even among the heavy birds in Blue Note's stable is because his sound was, even at this fairly early stage, extraordinarily individual—echoes of Chu Berry and Coleman Hawkins in his massive tone and the odd, quotable cadences of Sonny Rollins. Yet his influence lay more in pianists. Harmonically, Monterose cited Bud Powell (which would give him a passing affinity with alto saxophonist Jackie McLean), and his solos are odd-metered whirls, half-dissolved licks and emphatic blats that seem directly linked to isolationist pianistic flourishes.

The leader's mid-tempo composition "Wee Jay" is the lead-off track here, and is reprised in an alternate take on this Rudy Van Gelder remaster edition. Monterose probes shards of the theme, a lilting and fragmentary cadence of honks and blats with their edges rounded and velvety, slowly strung together in flourishes and then broken apart. There are echoes of Rollins (circa the contemporaneous Vanguard recordings) in his attack. Lingering a little behind the beat he's still an extraordinarily rhythmic player, riding the rhythm section's wave in alternating swirls and pointillist jabs. Silver is conspicuously absent for the first few bars of Monterose's solo, perhaps trying to find a way in with his comping—the tenor man's phrases are obviously a world unto themselves. For those used to Silver's hard, churchy approach, his touch is much lighter here, perhaps because Monterose, Ware and Philly Joe bring such meat to the proceedings.

Donald Byrd's "The Third" follows; a jagged and nearly stop-time theme that fits well with Monterose's sinewy and stammering patterns as a soloist. He takes cues from Silver's arpeggiated cascades, hopping and pirouetting into a collective dance with Sullivan. The trumpeter is an excellent front line foil, a brittle and ragged logic that fills the holes in the leader's quixotic play of force and filigree. It's hard to imagine a player like Monterose making cookie-cutter hard bop sessions the likes of which fill out the catalogs of many jazz labels from the period. However, he was certainly up to the task of making a warm and utterly unique contribution to the field, and having this date available again in stunning sound is a welcome homage to an uncompromising and individual saxophonist.

Tracks: Wee Jay; The Third; Bobbie Pin; Marc V; Ka-Link; Beauteous; Wee-Jay (alternate take).

Personnel: J.R. Monterose: tenor saxophone; Ira Sullivan: trumpet; Horace Silver: piano; Wilbur Ware: bass; Philly Joe Jones: drums.

Year Released: 2008 | Record Label: Blue Note Records | Style: Straight-ahead/Mainstream

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