The WES MONTGOMERY Trio: a dynamic new jazz sound
West Montgomery (g) Melvin Rhyne (org) Paul Parker (drs)
NYC; October 5 & 6, 1959
‘Round Midnight (4:49) (Thelonious Monk)
Yesterdays (3:13) (Harbach – Kern)
The End of a Love Affair (3:15) (Edw. Redding)
Whisper Not (4:32) (Benny Golson)
Ecorah (2:59) (Horace Silver)
Satin Doll (3:53) (Duke Ellington)
Missile Blues (5:57) (Wes Montgomery)
Too Late Now (4:48) (Lerner – Lane)
Jingles (5:29) (Wes Montgomery)
When you hear stories about some fabulous musician playing fantastic jazz in glorious obscurity somewhere out in the wilderness, the best advice – in at least nine cases out of ten – is to assume that the myth must have outdistanced the facts and forget about it. But even better advice is: watch out for that tenth man! As proof of this, take the case of WES MONTGOMERY. For Wes is very definitely a tenth man, if ever there was one.
Montgomery is, to put it bluntly, a jazz guitarist unlike any other you have ever heard. Self-taught, playing without a pick, he apparently just never knew that it isn’t possible to play octaves and block chords on this instrument – and therefore he does play them, in some of the most astonishing solos imaginable. This does not mean that he is a mere technical trickster; very much on the contrary, he plays with a fire and depth and soul that is equally astonishing. And in this guitar-organ-drums trio he has developed a rich and strikingly distinctive sound that is sure to make a great many people listen hard, and listen often.
I first heard about Wes in no uncertain terms and twice on the same day: to be precise, on September 17, 1959. Actually, the sings had been there for quite some time for those who had been able to read them (appearances on a record or two with this brothers Monk and Buddy, who form the nucleus of the group called “The Mastersounds”; a vote for Wes as new-star guitarist by Ralph Gleason in the Down Beat Critics Poll some two years ago; lots of musicians in New York who informed me – after the fact – that they had always known about Montgomery and had always been knocked out by his playing). But for me it started when Cannonball Adderley, just back in New York after a tour on which he had spent one day in Montgomery’s home town of Indianapolis, charged into the Riverside office and announced, in a monologue that went something like this: “There’s this guitarist in Indianapolis . . . you’ve got to get him for the label . . . Here’s his phone number.”
Cannonball, I have come to know, is one of the sounder and least-easily-flipped judges of jazz talent around. His excitement would have been quite enough for me. But as it happened, in the issue of The Jazz Review that I picked up later the same day, there was composer-musician-critic Gunther Schuller, normally an objective and calmly analytical writer, describing the same Wes Montgomery in superlatives usually used only by the writers of album notes: “extraordinarily spectacular . . . unbearably exciting . . . purity of creative ideas . . . . unfailing dramatic effectiveness.”
Five days later, I was in Indianapolis, spending some eight hours at the Turf Bar (Montgomery’s regular-hours job) and the Missile Room (where he regularly continued after hours). Long before the night was over I knew that Adderley and Schuller had not been guilty of exaggeration. I had heard not only the ‘impossible’ things Wes consistently does on guitar, but also the remarkable unity of this trio, and what Shuller calls “the unreserved joy and excitement” communicated by these three musicians who “thrive on each other.”
Possibly not absolutely all of the relaxed excitement and brilliant creative interplay of the group has been captured on their first recording as a unit. But I do know that a very substantial amount of their special qualities is to be heard here. Certainly there is the fascinating and moving sound built by the blend of Montgomery’s unorthodox guitar style and Rhyne’s lean, swinging, equally non-conventional approach to the organ backed by Parker’s restrained, alert drumming; and the awesome impact of the truly unique Montgomery solo work.
Despite the leader’s incredible dexterity (sitting quite close to him, I discovered that even 20-20 vision wasn’t good enough t keep his right thumb from blurring before my eyes), the trio leans towards a tempo range best described as medium-to-moody. Only Too Late Now is strictly in ballad tempo, but both Thelonious Monk’s ‘Round Midnight and Benny Golson’s Whisper Not are taken not much faster than that and are treated with soulful and almost breath-taking beauty. The two originals by Wes (Jingle and Missile Blues) and particularly – and rather unexpectedly – the Jerome Kern standard, Yesterdays, are in a robustly earthy vein, Ellington’s Satin Doll swings with all the delicacy that the tune’s title would seem to cal for; and finger-popping versions of The End of a Love Affair and Horace Silver’s Ecorah are as up-tempo as things get to be here.
Surprisingly enough Wes Montgomery was nineteen years old before he first turned to music. He recalls that (not at all surprisingly) it was hearing Charlie Christian on records in 1942 that first sparked his interest in the guitar; six months later, he began to play professionally. Except for two years with Lionel Hampton (1948-50,when the band also included Fats Navarro and Charlie Mingus), Wes has mostly stayed close to Indianapolis, largely because of a family that includes six children. For a number of years the three Montgomery brothers worked together at the Turf Bar; when the others left for the West Coast, Wes stayed on the job. There was also the after-hours spot (and for a while, a variety of non-musical daytime jobs, too!), and it was when the late-night Missile room installed an organ early in ’59 that the present trio really came into being.
MELVIN RHYNE was a pianist “who had fooled around with organ some”; apparently this is a clue to his development of a lithe, angular, pianistic organ style, with a firm left-foot bass line but without either the overripe sound or the heavy-handed chomping that besets so much jazz organ playing. PAUL PARKER, a sure-handed and swinging young drummer, is like Rhyne an Indianapolis native in his early twenties. Working steadily together, and holding to Wes’s precept that “good taste” must be a primary consideration at all times, the three have built a unit of rare cohesiveness.
As for Montgomery’s own ‘impossible’ style, he makes its emergence seem most casual. IN 1949, he says, he began tuning up with octaves; about a year later he tried playing a melodic line in octaves, and found he could do it. Next he experimented with chorded solos (“after all, it can be done on piano”). Wes notes also that “for ideas” he listens, not to other guitarists, but to horn men: above all, to Charlie Parker and more recently to John Coltrane. It all sounds simple, but when you add the obvious fact that here is an artist of truly superior jazz feeling and skill, you must conclude that the rather belated ‘discovery’ of Wes Montgomery is an event of great excitement and importance.
A HIGH FIDELITY Recording – Riverside-Reeves SPECTROSONIC High Fidelity Engineering
(Audio Compensation: RIAA Curve)
Produced, and notes written by ORRIN KEEPNEWS
Cover produced and designed by PAUL BACON – KEN BRAREN – HARRIS LEWINE
Back-liner photos by LAWRENCE N. SHUSTAK
Engineer: JACK HIGGINS (Reeves Sound Studios)
Mastered by JACK MATTHEWS (Components Corp.) on a HYDROFEED lathe.
RIVERSIDE RECORDS are released by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS, Inc.
553 West 51st Street New York 19, N.Y.