Before cementing his reputation in the United States as a world-class soloist, the blind Catalan Tete Montoliu had long since established himself (along with Martial Solal) as the pianist of choice for visiting American jazz stars beginning in the '50s.
It's easy to hear why. With his crystal tone, blinding speed and flawless articulation, Montoliu's skill rivaled that of even his most illustrious employers (Ben Webster and Dexter Gordon among them.)
Tete gets the spotlight on Orquestra Taller de Musics de Barcelona. He doesn't disappoint. The Orquestra itself turns out to be a well rehearsed unit playing airy arrangements that give the pianist plenty of space to develop his intelligently constructed solos. Montoliu also has an uncanny knack for darting in and out of the arrangements, adding a quicksilver phrase in exactly the right spot. His rethinking of Joe Henderson's “Recordame” is representative of his best playing — he irons out the tune's more aggressive elements, revealing an elegant layer beneath the surface. There's also a gauzy version of “All of Me” with an arrangement that is equal parts Gil Evans and late-period Duke Ellington. Tete glides through that one in true aristocratic fashion, each note a gem placed just right on its orchestral cushion.