As trombonist Doug Sertl tells it, he had worked with pianist and B-3 organist Rick Montalbano and his trio many times over the years. They had recorded several piano collaborations and Sertl wanted to record a session with the organ. “The organ trio,” he explains, “has a different feel and sound than a piano trio.” So back in July of 1998, they got together for two three-hour sessions. Beautiful Friendship is the album that came out of that session. It is a fine compilation of brightly inventive jazz played with assured confidence. It only has one drawback. It has taken 15 years for it to see the light of day.
Sertl and Montalbano are joined by guitarist Peter Bernstein and drummer Terry Clarke for a program of seven tunes, most well-known jazz classics, reimagined and reinvigorated. Each tune gets extensive exploration. There isn’t a track under five minutes and five run over seven minutes, plenty of time for Sertl and the rest of the ensemble to develop their ideas. Develop them they do—with an almost joyful abandon.
From the sprightly version of the album’s title song, which opens the album, to the funky riffs of the Mercer Ellington gem “Things Ain’t What They Used to Be,” which closes the album, Sertl gives everyone a shot at the spotlight. And they make sure to take advantage. Sertl may take the lead, but Bernstein is never far behind, and Clarke is a dynamo. Montalbano works the B-3 with consummate wit. The two tunes bookend an album of straight-ahead jazz that is a delight to the ear.
They do an uptempo take on the Tommy Dorsey trombone standard “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You,” which has Bernstein taking the first solo after Sertl handles the famous melody. It doesn’t take long for the trombone to join in and the two work together in a kind of call and response. The Dizzy Gillespie composition “Groovin’ High,” patterned on “Whispering,” features Montalbano’s organ taking the theme after Sertl introduces the underlying melody.
Although the set includes a medium-tempo version of “The Nearness of You,” the only real slow ballad on the album is “Nancy (With the Laughing Face),” a Jimmy Van Heusen song you don’t hear too often these days. Their treatment has to make you wonder why that is. “I Hear a Rhapsody” completes the album’s play list.
Trombone, organ, guitar, and drums—this is a combination you don’t hear too often. Sertl, Montalbano, Bernstein, and Clarke—this is a combination that makes it work.