WES MONTGOMERY — The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery

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WES MONTGOMERY - The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery cover
4.88 | 10 ratings | 1 review
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Album · 1960

Filed under Hard Bop
By WES MONTGOMERY

Tracklist

A1 Airegin 4:24
A2 D-Natural Blues 5:18
A3 Polka Dots And Moonbeams 4:38
A4 Four On Six 6:10
B1 West Coast Blues 7:20
B2 In Your Own Sweet Way 4:45
B3 Mister Walker 4:28
B4 Gone With The Wind 6:13

Total Time: 44:17

Line-up/Musicians

Bass – Percy Heath
Drums – Albert "Tootie" Heath
Guitar – Wes Montgomery
Piano – Tommy Flanagan

About this release

Riverside Records –RLP 12-320 (US)

Recorded in New York, January 26 & 28, 1960

Thanks to snobb for the updates

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MilesBeyond
This album's title is no idle boast, no mere braggadocio. Wes Montgomery is quite possibly the greatest talent to have ever graced the guitar, and this recording is what would both introduce him to the jazz world at large, including his unique and quintessential approach to the instrument, and establish his presence as a musical giant.

The album is evenly split between standards and original compositions. The standards open with the Sonny Rollins composition Airegin (Nigeria spelt backwards, for those who are wondering). This essentially serves as Montgomery's tour de force: At the time, it was one of the most difficult compositions to play over and to this day it remains a challenging piece. Nonetheless, Montgomery navigates the unforgiving changes with elegance and grace, his playing deceptive: The tasteful, understated lines neatly mask the incredible complexity of what is happening.

The next two standards are Polkadots and Moonbeams (track 3), and In Your Own Sweet Way (track 6). These two are the ballads of the album, and they demonstrate a completely different side of Wes' playing. Delicate and heart-wrenching, Montgomery uses his guitar to elicit emotions in a way that is usually reserved to horn players. Polkadots demonstrates his affinity for octaves, creating a delicate, floating sound which invites the listener to drift along with it. In contrast, Sweet Way begins with an aching chord melody that pushes the song's harmonies to their limits, followed by what would become one of the most influential guitar solos ever recorded.

Finally, the album closes with Gone With The Wind. A light, easy swinger, the song is the perfect vehicle to illustrate Wes' tasteful playing. , The original compositions include D Natural Blues (track 2), Four on Six (track 4), West Coast Blues (track 5), and Mr. Walker (Renie) (track 7). D Natural Blues offers Wes' slick take on this classic form of jazz, and while it can be subject to cliché it's nonetheless a great opportunity to hear the band grooving.

Four on Six, however, is the centrepiece of the album. The only Wes original from here that would go on to become a standard, it begins with a driving bass ostinato outlining the chord changes. The guitar solo on this song is quintessential Wes, and anyone looking to understand what he was all about should look no further. It shows off his idiosyncratic style of beginning with single note lines, building to octaves, and finally culminating in block chords, and it does so to great effect. If you're a musician in general and a guitarist in particular, this solo is essential listening. However, be sure to check out the ultimate recording of this song on his album Smokin' At The Half Note, which takes what's done here, builds on it, and tops it in a way one would never have thought possible.

West Coast Blues, with it's bouncing chord changes, 12/8 time signature and slippery, almost Monk-like melody lines, is a bit more of a modern take on the I-IV-V than the earlier D Natural Blues. Fantastic playing on this one as well, which has become a classic Wes cut and a must-learn for any jazz guitarist.

Finally, there's Mr. Walker. This is actually one of my personal favourite Wes compositions and I'm surprised it doesn't get more attention. It's the albums only latin-influenced cut (although Wes would get more into that later), and it's a breath of fresh air. It contrasts a mean, swaggering A section with an open, floating B section, and the playing is terrific, with Wes manipulating the (admittedly simple) changes to great advantage and pulling out all the stops on the second chorus with octaves galore. Tommy Flanagan also plays a wonderful solo on this one, with his soaring piano lines amplifying the effect of the B section.

It may seem odd that this is the first mention of the band but their playing is actually rather underwhelming on this album. While I'm usually a fan of Flanagan, his playing doesn't stand out on this album (which could quite likely be intentional, given the album's spotlight on Wes), and the brothers Heath get the job done, but that's it. The aforementioned Smokin' At The Half Note is a great example of Wes playing with other musicians who are truly of his calibre, and it is not to be missed.

Nonetheless, this recording is still a fantastic portrait of one of the greatest figures in the world of guitar. Any fan of jazz should hear it, any jazz musician should own it, and any jazz guitarist should know it by heart.

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