John Coates Jr. made many friends during his decades-long run at the Deer Head Inn in Delaware Water Gap, PA, and this series of 1980 sessions includes solo, duo, and trio recordings. On this two-record set, the leader opens and closes each of the four sides with relatively brief original compositions, with the exception of his "Prayer of Thanks," during which he stretches out a little more at the conclusion of the album. His approach to piano often has a rural flavor to it, though his bop chops are never in doubt. George Young, better known for his studio work than for his handful of dates as a leader, adds his piccolo to the buoyant Coates original "For a Friend" and plays the rarely heard sopranino sax in a delightful extended duet of the standard "The Very Thought of You." Alto saxophonist Phil Woods, one of Coates' biggest fans, shines in a blistering version of Arthur Schwartz's "How Can We Be Wrong?" (which also adds Woods' bassist, Steve Gilmore) and doubles on clarinet in the leader's loping "Some Changes." Coates provides stimulating support for trombonist Urbie Green in a saucy interpretation of "Oh, Lady Be Good." The late guitarist Harry Leahey, whose recorded legacy (including several albums with Phil Woods during the late '70s) has been unfortunately overlooked by many critics, shines in John Lewis' "Two Degrees East, Three Degrees West." Due to the demise of Omnisound, this music has yet to reappear on CD, but this two-disc anthology of valuable vinyl is very much worth seeking, as is the music from a second compilation, Pocono Friends Encore, which was recorded during the same session.
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