It was an unexpected delight to find that eMusic carries this rare 1968 album by the late, eccentric Argentine pianist Enrique Villegas. An irrepressible cross between Jimmy Rowles and Thelonious Monk with an added dash of Erroll Garner, Villegas (known mostly by his last name alone) was capable of constant surprises at the keyboard. Adding to the pleasure of Encuentro is the participation of the incomparable tenor saxophonist Paul Gonsalves and the quirky, underrated trumpeter Willie Cook (both of whom were in Buenos Aires at the time, on tour with Duke Ellington.)
All three players are genuine mavericks, and there's a playful strain of idiosyncrasy that keeps the up-tempo tunes bouncing. "Perdido" illustrates Gonsalves's uncanny aptitude for slipping and sliding over chords in an endlessly inventive way. "Just Friends" becomes a nuevo bossa nova featuring the tenor saxophonist and a terrific contrarian piano solo by the leader. "I Can't Get Started" shows off Cook's expressive muted trumpet work.
The ballads are the thing, though. Gonsalves was one of jazz's great balladeers, constructing alternate universes of beauty and loss. He does that on both "I Cover the Waterfront" and "Ramona" — the latter a heartbreaking serenade. Villegas's ballad counterpart is "Gone with the Wind." He plays it haltingly, adding playful, almost-funky phrases. It's both funny and touching.