WES MONTGOMERY: BOSS GUITAR
Wes Montgomery (g) Mel Rhyne (org) Jimmy Cobb (drs)
Plaza Sound Studio, New York City; April 22, 1962
Besame mucho (6:28) (Velasquez-Skylar)
Dearly Beloved (4:49) (Kern-Mercer)
Days of Wine and Roses (3:44) (Mancini-Mercer)
The Trick Bag (4:24) (Wes Montgomery)
Canadian Sunset (5:04) (Heywood-Gimbel)
Fried Pies (6:44) (Wes Montgomery)
The Breeze and I (4:06) (Lecuona-Stillman)
For Heaven’s Sake (4:39) (Meyer-Bretton)
Perhaps the best indication of guitarist Wes Montgomery’s position in the jazz hierarchy can be found in the results of the 1963 Playboy Jazz Poll. This magazine actually conducts two polls: one among its readership, considerably larger and more eclectic than that of any other poll-taking magazine; the other, more select and more significant, among those musicians who were the readers’ choices the previous year. With the readers, Montgomery finished fourth, trailing Chet Atkins, Barney Kessel and Charlie Byrd. But the musicians (who included, among others, Cannonball Adderley, Ray Brown, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Paul Desmond, Duke Ellington, Stan Getz, Dizzy Gillespie, Gerry Mulligan, Oscar Peterson and Frank Sinatra) voted, Wes first place, making him what Playboy calls “All-Star Guitar”.
A briefer way to say the same thing is that Wes Montgomery is a musician’s musician. My own first knowledge of him stems from the time that vibist Milt Jackson and composer Gunther Scheller, two men who are careful with praise and are not always in agreement with one another, became unofficial publicity men for the guitarist. My only acquaintance with him was on records, and the official word was that the studio sometimes had a constricting influence on Montgomery. Then came the “Full House” album, recorded live in a California club with Johnny Griffin and the Miles Davis rhythm section of the time. It was a swinging, happy blues date, and on it, I heard more clearly than before what all the talk had been about.
Which brings me to an evening in the Spring of 1963, when I went to the Five Spot in New York to hear a trio composed of guitarist Jim Hall, bassist Ron Carter, and pianist Tommy Flanagan. The trio was there, as advertised, but Hall was seated at a table, listening intently while Wes Montgomery played Jim’s trio. “Is he sitting in?” I asked. “I’d call it more than that,” Hall answered, indicating, politely and reasonably, that this was not the time for extended conversation. There is no need to go into detailed reporting of what Montgomery played that night, because that music is not under consideration there. But hat night I became a believer, and I remain one.
Much of the early talk about Montgomery centered on his technical acumen, which is even more remarkable because he is self-taught. He plays solos in octaves that most other guitarists would find difficult to negotiate single-string. He has, further, an innate sense of how to structure a solo, giving it a form and balance, often through repeating an idea or rhythm pattern while building in direct, uncluttered style or a climax. None of this is done in imitation of the classical or flamenco styles that some others use for effect; if the style bears resemblance to anyone at all, it resembles, particularly in its chordal moments, the great Django Reinhardt. The only exception which one could take to Montgomery’s earlier work was that, unlike Reinhardt or (for a not rally dissimilar example) his friend Milt Jackson, he was not a great melodist. And for me, even that last reservation is dispelled with this latest Montgomery LP.
This album is return to the formal of his first, “The Wes Montgomery Trio”. It is a format determined by the fact that Montgomery does not travel as much as his position would indicate (which goes a long way toward explaining why he is still better known among musicians than fans), preferring to work around his native Indianapolis, often with an organist. By now, there are a great many tenor-organ-guitar-drums groups in existence, most of them working in small lounges around the country. Most of the saxophonists who lead such groups have been called “boss tenor” at one time or another, but no one is likely to challenge Wes Montgomery’s position as the “boss guitar”. Wes works with organ and drums, making this basically a lounge group with the tenor removed. But unlike most such units, he does not deal in superficial excitement. His organist Mel Rhyne, who also played on the first LP, is not a grandstand shouter, a fact which has sometimes disturbed club owners to whom the word “organ” means only one thing. He prefers to lay down an orchestral background for Wes, which explains why there is an unusually high frequency of previously-worked-out sections on this record. This is definitely not one of those cases of “Everybody come in and blow.” And the drummer here is Jimmy Cobb, a long-time member of the Miles Davis rhythm section. One of Davis’ requirements is that a drummer give each soloist his own best backing, so it follows that Cobb would be more adaptable than most. This is a repeat performance with Wes for him, too; he was Montgomery’s choice for “Full House”.
Another unusual point: the material is not limited to blues allowing endless streams of choruses, with a occasional funky-gospel piece tossed in to satisfy the more visceral among the clientele. Actually, only two of the songs are played by jazz groups with any frequency: Dearly Beloved, a favorite of Charlie Parker, and of the more recent Canadian Sunset. (The latter receives a bossa-nova treatment so delicately implied that it might not be noticeable the first time.) For Heaven’s Sake is a memorable treatment of a seldom-played ballad. The Breeze and I and Besame Mucho have both been almost irrevocably associated with Cugat-styled Latin bands, but both are rescued here by Montgomery. Besame Mucho, in a unique and charming arrangement with a deep-roots feeling, is played in 6/8 time. Days of Wine and Roses is the second song jointly written by Henry Mancini and Jo0hnny Mercer, and both have won Academy Awards. The first, Moon River, has made inroads into the jazz repertoire; Montgomery, in the best example on the set of his chordal technique, indicates that the second may do the same. Two tracks are Montgomery originals. One, Fried Pies, is a blues. The other is called The Trick Bag, but tricky as it is, one pays less attention to the formidable techniques involved than to the charming melody and excellent musical content. The same can be said for everything Wes Montgomery does.
Other Wes Montgomery albums on Riverside include –
Full House (434; Stereo 9434)
Bags Meets Wes – with Milt Jackson (407; Stereo 9407)
So Much Guitar! (382; Stereo 9382)
Movin’ Along (342; Stereo 9342)
The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery (320; Stereo 1169)
Wes Montgomery Trio (310; Stereo 1156)
This recording is available in both Stereophonic (RS 9459) and Monaural (RM 459) form.
Produced by ORRIN KEEPNEWS
Recording Engineer: RAY FOWLER recorded at Plaza Sound Studios; New York City)
Album design: KEN DEARDOFF
Back-liner photos by ED MITCHEL
RIVERSIDE RECORDS are produced by BILL GARUER PRODUCTIONS, Inc.
235 West 46th Street New York city 36, New York