With the possible exception of Grover Washington's Feels So Good, no other album captured the spirit of jazz in 1975 like Bobby Hutcherson's Montara. Recorded in his hometown of L.A., Montara is the very sound of groove jazz coming out of fusion, and Latin jazz's tough salsa rhythms coming home to roost in something more warm and effluvial that would meet the populace where it was changing and mellowing out rather than making it sit up and take notice. That said, Montara is, like the Washington record, a masterpiece of the genre even though it isn't celebrated in the same way. Featuring a stellar cast of musicians -- among them Willie Bobo, Blue Mitchell, Bobby Matos, Ernie Watts, Harvey Mason, Plas Johnson, Fred Jackson, Larry Nash, and Chuck Domanico -- Montara is a portrait of Hutcherson's complex gift of subtlety and virtuosity. Whether it's the funky Weather Report dance of "Camel Rise," with Nash's electric piano and the horns weaving around one another in a soulful samba melody, the sweet soulful groove of the title track, where Hutcherson's solo lilts to the point of actually singing, the killer Cuban salsa of "La Malanga," done in complete minor-key frenzy (all the while without losing the easy, slippery grace of soul-jazz), the shimmering echoplexed electric piano and vibes interplay on "Love Song," or the steaming, burning gasoline orgy of Hutcherson's read of Santana's "Oye Como Va," with a killer flute line by Watts winding its way through a knotty bassline and multi-part percussion, the effect is the same: blissed-out moving and grooving for a summer day. Hutcherson's chameleon-like ability to shape-shift is truly remarkable as a sideman and especially as a leader. He never overplays, his charts are tight, and he always creates a band vibe. Almost all of his solo recordings reflect the strengths of the ensemble rather than his strengths as a soloist. Montara is one of the great feel-good jazz albums of the 1970s, one of the great Latin jazz albums of the 1970s, and one of the great groove jazz records. Seek it out without hesitation.
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