The Earliest Known Wes Montgomery Recordings Out March 6
Believe the hype: Wes Montgomery’s Echoes of Indiana Avenue, due out on March 6 from Resonance, is major. For one, this recently unearthed collection comprises the guitar legend’s earliest known studio and stage recordings, dating as far back as 1957 (and whose master tapes were originally discovered on ebay). To this date, Montgomery’s fingerprints are all over virtually every subsequent guitar jazz recording, a legacy that this album quietly but powerfully affirms. It’s amazing how fully formed his voice was by this time, playing with tight and surprisingly eclectic bands from his hometown of Indianapolis featuring his brothers Buddy on piano and Monk on electric bass, plus Melvin Rhyne on piano and organ, Mingo Jones on bass and either Sonny Johnson or Paul Parker on drums. The performances here transcend the slightly muddy, mono sonics (which have obviously been subjected to a thorough scrubbing). As you would expect from what’s essentially a collection of demos, most of the songs are standards that conceivably would have appealed to that era’s jazz label executives; as might also be expected, the single most eye-popping track is a blues jam that Montgomery punches into with a stunningly invigorating T-Bone Walker-inflected attack. Not what you might expect from someone typically associated with genteel urbanity.
The tiptoeing intro to Diablo’s Dance gives no indication of the confidently spiraling solo that Montgomery builds to, capping it off by interjecting some casually biting chords within Rhyne’s elegant, flutelike piano lines. Round Midnight gets a surprisingly dark, expansive, slowly swaying interpretation with Rhyne on organ – the artful way the guitar shifts octaves on the outro transcends any “octave thing” shtick that Dan Morgenstern’s liner notes mention. The staccato swing of Straight No Chaser features a memorably heated exchange of ideas with Montgomery’s bass-playing brother, while Nica’s Dream, with its pulsing bolero tinges, has Montgomery veering from juicy, biting chords to wary horn voicings.
The organ ballad version of Darn That Dream has a warmly bluesy, cognac-infused wee-hours ambience; the sound quality diminishes appreciably on an otherwise entertainingly animated postbop live concert version of Take the A Train, Montgomery pushing pianist Earl Van Riper, who pushes back just as vigorously. Misty reverts to late-night gin joint mode; Body and Soul gets reinvented as syncopated, practically atonal postbop; and then there’s that slowly sizzling blues jam. Were some of Montgomery’s albums, especially toward the end, poorly conceived and carelessly produced? No question. This, thankfully, isn’t one of them. If you’re a fan, get this; if you’re not a fan, this is a tremendously revealing and soulful mix of important historical work from an iconic artist.
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