One Night In Indy By Wes Montgomery

March 11, 2016

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The rule of thumb with Wes Montgomery’s music is that the earlier the recording, the better and more creative it is. Early in his career he was a sideman but by 1958 he was signed to the Riverside label and for the next six years he created a body of work that helped define the jazz guitar for the next several generations of musicians who would follow.

He released an incredible 18 albums during his time with Riverside, so it is always a treat when some unreleased material is unearthed. That brings us to an old 7” tape reel recording that was recently discovered of a 1959 live performance by Montgomery, backed by pianist Eddie Higgins, drummer Walter Perkins, and a bassist whose name has been lost to history.

Duncan Schiedt was a photo journalist, filmmaker, author, and jazz aficionado who ran the Indianapolis Jazz Club with friends for a number of years and before his death in 2014 passed on a tape of the only known live performance of Montgomery and Higgins performing together.

The six tracks follow the same formula. Higgins establishes the melody and then Montgomery improvises on top of the piano. Sometimes his excursions are true to the songs melody but at other times he twists them all out of shape.

The opening track, the nine minute “Give Me The Simple Life,” is an introduction of what is to come. Montgomery’s guitar flits in and out of Higgins piano runs as they establish a double melody. “Lil Darling” has an extended Montgomery solo. He had a delicate and precise touch and his sound here is immediately recognizable. “You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To” finds the drums, piano, and guitar creating a three layered melodic effect. “Ruby My Dear” is a Thelonious Monk composition and Montgomery travels an eclectic route as he pushes the melody to the outer edges of its structure.

One Night In Indy finds Wes Montgomery performing live at the beginning of what will be the most fertile part of his career. The sound is adequate, which is normal for a recording in a small club in 1959. Still, it finds a mature artist combining with a first-rate pianist. A fine addition to Montgomery’s early legacy.

 

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In The Beginning By Wes Montgomery

October 26, 2015

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The general rule when approaching the music of Wes Montgomery is the earlier the material the better. By the time he recorded for the A&M label near the end of his life, he had incorporated strings into his sound and smoothed out the production. While these changes garnered him wide mainstream success, his music lost some of its creativeness and raw power.

Since his death in 1968, there have been very few releases of predominantly unreleased material. Now a new two-CD release has been issued combining several live performances with newly unearthed 1955 recordings produced by a young Quincy Jones, plus some of the earliest recording of his career from 1949.

Thirteen of the 14 tracks on the first disc were recorded live from two different performances at the Turf Club in Indianapolis during the second half of 1956. While the sound is average at best due to the technology of the day and the fact that they were made by a 21 year old college student, it presents a nice glimpse into his developing style as one of the best jazz guitarists of his generation. He is accompanied by brother Buddy (piano), Alonzo “Pookie” Johnson (sax), Sonny Johnson (drums), and depending on the show, other brother Monk or John Dale (bass).

A small club setting gives him the room to improvise. It is a performance grounded in the fifties. “After You’ve Gone” is an old swing tune featuring interplay between Pookie Johnson’s sax and Montgomery’s guitar. “Four” is an excellent example of his ability to string notes together. “How High The Moon” is an extended jam as the quintet explores all facets of the melody.

The second disc centers on the five tracks produced by Quincy Jones during 1955. The sound in superior to the first disc given the fact they were recorded for general release. The three Montgomery brothers, plus the two Johnson’s spent two days in the studio recording an upbeat “Love For Sale” and some instrumental harmonies on the ballad  ”Leila.” The most creative tracks are “Undecided,” where Montgomery focuses on one note for his improvisation and “Blues,” which serves as a vehicle for Johnson’s sax solos.

There is also a live track recorded at Chicago’s C&C Music Lounge in 1957 with saxophonist Johnson and a group of unidentified musicians. Clocking in at just over 12 minutes, it gives Montgomery time to develop his solo as he explores the songs melody.

The final three tracks on the set are from 1949 and find Montgomery more as a sideman to sax player Gene Morris. “King Trotter,” “Carlena’s Blues,” and “Smooth Evening” are all short and concise pieces that find Montgomery at the beginning of his career.

A 50 page booklet is included featuring music historian Ashley Khan, jazz writer Bill Milkowski, Pete Townshend, and recollections by Quincy Jones. Also included are a number of archival photos.

In The Beginning is a historical must for any fan of Montgomery or of the development of the jazz guitar. Unreleased material by Wes Montgomery has been few and far in-between and these early recordings should be treasured.

 


So Much Guitar by Wes Montgomery

August 28, 2013

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So Much Guitar!, by Wes Montgomery, is one of five new titles released by Concord Music Group in their ongoing Original Jazz Classics Remasters series.

Wes Montgomery (1923-1968) was one of the most innovative jazz guitarists of the 20th century. His use of the guitar as the main instrument, plus his technique of picking the strings with his thumb to create a unique style, and his ability to expand his sound from the exploration of single notes helped to expand the guitar’s place in jazz music.

His recording period can be divided into three distinct periods. His time with Riverside Records, 1959-1964, was his most prolific and productive and found him leading small groups. His period with Verve, 1964-1966, found him in basically an orchestral setting, complete with strings and brass. Just prior to his death, he signed with A&M and moved in a very commercial pop direction. This latest reissue is wisely taken from his Riverside period as So Much Guitar! is one of the better, if underrated, albums of his career.

When he went into the recording studio in August of 1961, he was accompanied by pianist Hank Jones, bassist Ron Carter, drummer Lex Humphries, and conga player Ray Baretto. The key was Carter, who was near the beginning of a career that continues today as one of the most prolific bassists in jazz history. He was the perfect foil for Montgomery as his talent on the bass pushed him to better performances.

The most interesting tracks are Montgomery’s two original compositions, “Twisted Blues” and “Something Like Bags.” The ballads, a subtle cover of the 1940s tune “One for My Baby (and One More for the Road)” and “While We’re Young,” are good examples of the Carter and Montgomery interplay. The Duke Ellington piece “Cotton Tail,” which in its original incarnation was a sax-driven tune, was adapted to feature guitar as the main instrument.

As with all the albums in the series, the sound is clear and crisp and the booklet gives a fine history of the albums creation and music. The original liner notes are also included.

There were no outtakes from the sessions to add as bonus tracks, so the producers went in a different direction and added eight tracks that were recorded early in 1961 at The Cellar in Vancouver, British Columbia. These include Wes Montgomery with Buddy Montgomery on vibes, bassist Monk Montgomery, and drummer Paul Humphrey. The performances of compositions such as “Snowfall,” “This Love of Mine,” “On Green Dolphin Street,” and “Angel Eyes” may not have the sophistication of the previous studio tracks but they are good examples of the guitarist’s technique and style as his playing is out front. The eight performances were released as The Montgomery Brothers in Canada, so you are essentially getting two albums for the price of one.

So Much Guitar! was a pivotal album in the career of Wes Montgomery and is an essential listen for any fan of his or of jazz guitar.


Boss Guitar by Wes Montgomery

November 19, 2010

Wes Montgomery, 1923-1968, remains one of the most influential jazz guitarists in history. His career can be divided into three sections which can be tracked by his record labels.

His work for the Riverside label, 1958-1963, was usually in small groups and can be considered his classic jazz period. During his time with Verve he added strings and some brass to his sound but basically stayed within a jazz setting and style. His final label, A&M from 1967-1968, found him moving toward a pop sound in hopes of achieving large commercial success.

The Original Jazz Classics Series has now reached back to his Riverside period to reissue his classic 1963 album Boss Guitar. It was a good choice for their series as it remains one of his strongest outings.

Boss Guitar finds him recording with a basic trio. Drummer Jimmy Cobb and Hammond B-3 organist Mel Rhyme are his accompanists. While Cobb lays down a solid foundation, it is Rhyme who provides the compliment to Montgomery’s guitar playing while taking some solos of his own.

Many of the tracks have a Latin feel. “Besame Mucho” gets the album off to an auspicious start as Montgomery begins with a series of haunting solos in a minor key. “The Breeze and I” is similar as Montgomery solos by replicating a progressive series of notes which was his early trademark.

As with many early jazz artists he chooses a couple of traditional pop classics for interpretation. “Days Of Wine and Roses” and “Canadian Sunset” are both given melodic work-outs with several improvisational solos.

Two original Wes Montgomery tunes are also included. “The Trick Bag” is a nice up-tempo number and “Fried Pies” at over six minutes gives each of the players a chance to shine.

“Dearly Beloved” is the track which presents the best solo by organist Mel Rhyme who would go on to a stellar career in his own right.

As with all the Original Jazz Classics releases there is an informative booklet that examines Montgomery’s career plus the original liner notes are included. The three bonus tracks are alternate takes of “Besame Mucho,” “The Trick Bag,” and “Fried Pies” and it is interesting to compare them to the ones used on the album.

Boss Guitar still sounds fresh almost a half century after its initial release. It is an album that more than lives up to its title.

Article first published as Music Review: Wes Montgomery – Boss Guitar on Blogcritics.


The Incredible Jazz Guitar Of Wes Montgomery

March 28, 2009

Wes Montgomery (1925-1968) was one of the most influential guitarists of the 20th century. He took the swing sound of Charlie Christian and the gypsy jazz styling of Django Reinhardt and combined them into a unique American jazz sound. His early work would influence the two generations of jazz guitarists that would follow him.

Wes Montgomery went through a number of incarnations during his career. He is best remembered today for his hugely popular jazz/pop albums recorded for the A&M label in the mid to late 1960’s. This group of late career releases found Montgomery adjusting his sound for the masses and adding a more orchestral background. The Incredible Jazz Guitar Of Wes Montgomery, from early in his career, finds him exploring the classic jazz idiom within a small group setting. He is joined by Tommy Flanagan (piano), Percy Heath (bass) and Albert Heath (drums).

This was the album that set him apart from other guitarists. He had a unique approach to phasing and legend has it that his thumbs were double jointed and could actually bend back and touch his wrist. This enabled Montgomery to develop a technical virtuosity that allowed the notes to be distinct. He was also able to maintain a fairly melodic sound, which was different from many of the other jazz practitioners of his day. This CD release of The Incredible Jazz Guitar Of Wes Montgomery was re-mastered from the original tapes. The original cover art and liner notes are intact. Also included is a substantive biography of Montgomery’s career. It all combines into a 60’s looking package with a modern sound.

“Four On Six” and “Polka Dots To Moonbeams” were breakthrough songs as they would popularize the use of octaves on the guitar. His flow from chords to octaves was unique as was his blending of instruments. “D-Natural Blues” would show Montgomery’s ability to match his sound to the piano and trade leads. His rendition of “Gone With The Wind” is guitar playing at its best. It is always interesting to compare his version to Dave Brubeck’s classic piano interpretation.

The Incredible Jazz Guitar Of Wes Montgomery was a seminal album in the creation of the guitar sound. He was able to modernize jazz through the use of his guitar. Jazz guitarists who have followed him have polished and added nuances to the sound but none have had the same lasting creative impact.