Like the finest jazz musicians, pianist John Coates Jr. has an easily identifiable sound.
Sometimes he explores a melody emphatically, occasionally in an oblique fashion reminiscent of Thelonious Monk, but his playing almost always suggests a sense of discovery. The most familiar tunes sound unusual; unusual tunes sound familiar. And while his playing can be lean or rhapsodic, driven or lyrical, wry or introspective, seldom is it less than distinctive and enjoyable.
Coates' current album, "Pocono Friends Encore," is a case in point. On this, his second recording with saxophonist Phil Woods, guitarist Harry Leahey and a few other of his Pennsylvania neighbors, Coates fully displays his gifts.
He and Woods give Cole Porter's "Why Shouldn't I?" a boppish tint without compromising its melody. A similar rapport is evident on the original "Brazilian Stew" and Jimmy Van Heusen's "Like Someone in Love," where Coates and Leahey make translucent music together, with softly entwining melodies, gentle chords and shimmering harmonics.
The balance of the album, including excellent vehicles for veteran trombonist Urbie Green and promising saxophonist George Young, also serves Coates and discriminating jazz listeners equally well. This is one-of-a-kind jazz. ON RECORD, ON STAGE THE ALBUM JOHN COATES JR. -- Pocono Friends Encore (Omnisound Jazz.) THE SHOW JOHN COATES JR., Friday and Saturday at One Step Down.