Formerly known on vinyl as J.R. in Action on the Studio 4 label, these recordings were made live during a ten-month stay at drummer Joe Abodeely's run at the Tender Trap in Cedar Rapids in 1963. They have all the hallmarks of what made J.R. Monterose great. For whatever reason, he is one of the most under-celebrated tenor players ever. And while he came out of the bop tradition, he certainly walked his own road. Monterose was on fire during this period, weaving all the elements of his musical practice into his solos, from bop and hard bop to West Coast Kentonisms to the new sounds, though he was always and firmly a lyrical player. Five tracks make up this recording, including one rare Monterose original, "Chafie," as well as gorgeous renditions of Benny Golson's "Whisper Not," "Summertime," and Duke Ellington's "Sophisticated Lady." The rhythm section is adequate, that's all, but it hardly matters since it is Monterose's show: he twists intervals inside out and challenges Abodeely for the tempo, while both of the bass players just comp and try to keep time. Monterose's soloing comes out of the melodic center of the tune and looks for new legato phrasing to fit his ideas. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, but the point is in the process of trying to stretch these narratives and make them swing in a new way. The audience is in the pocket, clearly digging what's happening on the bandstand; while you can hear speech here and there in the mix, there are few glasses clinking and the solos are incredibly well received. There is an added treat here as well in that this disc features the first recordings of Al Jarreau on both the Gershwin tune and "Sophisticated Lady." Monterose pushes Jarreau to the limit of what he was then capable of. The recording quality isn't stellar, but it's more than listenable. This is essential Monterose, and while collectors have already spent hundreds of dollars on the vinyl, this gives the rest of us a chance to take in one of the greats in action.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek