The history of jazz is full of talented musicians who, for whatever reason, never received much exposure -- even on their local jazz scenes. Detroit pianist Bob Szajner is a perfect example. It would be inaccurate to describe Szajner as someone who enjoys "local celebrity" status in his hometown because he isn't well-known in Motor City jazz circles -- which probably has a lot to do with the fact that Szajner (who emerged on the Detroit jazz scene in the 1950s) has a long history of dropping out of music for extended periods of time. But as Live at the Detroit Montreux Jazz Festival 1981 demonstrates, Szajner is a likable hard bop/post-bop player with an approach that is swinging yet introspective and lyrical. Although recorded in 1981, this live date didn't actually become commercially available until Cadence Jazz released it in 2009, and Cadence made the right decision because Szajner (who forms an acoustic trio with bassist Ed Pickens and drummer Frank Isola) is in good form during his set, which finds him playing original material exclusively. Quite often, hard bop/post-bop pianists who aren't well known will play a lot of standards at outdoor jazz festivals, but Szajner's decision to stick to his own compositions serves him well on originals that range from the gospel-flavored "Prayer Meetin'" and the Brazilian-influenced "Travesty" to the reflective "Pause for Hawes" (written for bop pianist Hampton Hawes). Unfortunately, the sound quality isn't great on this 74-minute CD, which will appeal to collectors and historians rather than casual listeners. But the sound isn't terrible either, and all things considered, Live at the Detroit Montreux Jazz Festival 1981 paints an attractive picture of this obscure pianist.
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AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson