Wes Montgomery – In Paris: The Definitive ORTF Recording

Wes Montgomery
Title: In Paris: The Definitive ORTF Recording

Artist: Wes Montgomery

Label: Resonance

Formats: CD, Vinyl (2 discs with collector postcards), MP3

Release date: January 26, 2018

 

In my experience, official releases of recordings are, years later, sometimes followed by bootleg reissues. In this case, that sequence is reversed.  These recordings, from a Wes Montgomery concert at the Theatre des Champs-Elysees in Paris on March 27, 1965, are being officially issued for the first time by Resonance Records, in collaboration with Montgomery’s family and French ORTF Network. On this performance, Wes is backed by Johnny Griffin (tenor sax on four titles), Harold Mabern (piano), Arthur Harper (bass), and Jimmy Lovelace (drums).

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So what do we have?  This is the finest live recording by one of the three most important guitarists in jazz history, in my view, linking Wes with Charlie Christian and Django Reinhardt. Yes, there have been others possessing great talents, but these three were all formative artists in different ways.

Superficially, Wes’s recording career can be divided into four stages:

  1. As a sideman with Lionel Hampton (1948-1950);
  2. As an emerging artist (1950-1959) when he mostly performed with his brothers or other Indianapolis-based musicians and recorded for World Pacific and Pacific Jazz Records;
  3. As a featured artist (1959-1963) when he then emerged as a heralded new talent on Riverside Records, releasing a series of albums that are hallmarks in the history of jazz guitar.
  4. As a popular jazz guitarist after he moved to Verve and then A&M Records and became an artist who reached a broader audience with his recordings but without ever losing his focus on performing in the “Riverside era style” in concerts and clubs.

This recording from Paris is perhaps the finest from this final stage of Wes’s career.  His touring group of the day is joined by noted saxophonist Johnny Griffin on several of the tunes.

Resonance Records has become a primary source for remarkable releases of previously unissued recordings by Wes, all produced with the highest audio and production standards that truly honor his legacy. It is fitting that the company has released the present recording, the latest chronologically in this family of recordings that began with performances from Wes’s early years in Indianapolis and, a few years later, performing before members of the Indianapolis Jazz Club, and with pianist Wynton Kelley performing in a club in Seattle (these are linked to reviews in earlier issues of Black Grooves).

In Paris has some wonderful music. Performances range from up tempo versions of “Jingles” and “To Wane” to a beautiful slow ballad, “The Girl Next Door.” But there are really no single highlights. The musicians perform as a team, collectively inspired by the occasion. There is simply no point in singling out individual tunes for this is truly a remarkable performance throughout. It is every bit the equal of Wes’s best albums, ever. We are so fortunate that it was recorded and is now available in superior sound.

When I compare this recording to an earlier bootleg issue on Definitive Records in my collection, I am impressed by the quality of the remixing from the original tapes that increases the richness and power of the performance. The album notes explain that Wes avoided flying and only toured Europe on this single occasion (the 32-page booklet includes essays by Vincent Pelote, Pascal Rozat and Resonance producer Zev Feldman). Fortunately, this resulted in bootlegged recordings from Belgium, The Netherlands, Germany and England, along with a televised program produced by the BBC from London.  But this release of a 1965 performance in Paris is the highlight, and one of the finest in Wes’s career.

Reviewed by Thomas P. Hustad

Professor Emeritus of Marketing, Kelley School of Business

Author: Born to Play: Ruby Braff’s Discography and Directory of Performances

Paris – Pistol Politics

paris pistol politics

Title: Pistol Politics

Artist: Paris

Label: Guerrilla Funk Recordings

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release Date: September 11, 2015

 

 

Pistol Politics, the newest release from Paris, continues the San Francisco Bay rapper’s socially-conscious stance that often borders on provocative. Even though the album’s soundscape pulls strongly from the classic G-Funk era, Paris uses this sprawling 27-song double album to update his treatment of some of the perennial themes in his work—gun violence, police brutality, and systemic issues that lead to the difficulties of black urban life—in order to speak to the political climate of the United States in 2015.

While many black artists have released efforts that express solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement this year, Paris takes his political expression one step further than others who obliquely reference the movement do, choosing instead to provide an insightful examination of some of the root causes and systemic issues that have become a persistent part of political discourse in the United States. “Night of the Long Knives” takes the highly publicized killings of black citizens by police officers as a point of departure for Paris’s continued critique of the system, featuring a video that—in the rapper’s provocative style—contains images of fantasy street shootouts between armed black citizens and police. These sequences appear to propose a militant solution (couched in the rhetoric of self-defense) to a problem that, in Paris’s estimation, is not being solved due to his contention that “The only language America speaks is violence.”

 

 

Paris continues these themes on “Buck, Buck, Pass,” a song that charts a gun’s life from the assembly line through its inevitable use as an instrument of death and destruction. In this song, he highlights elements of the failed system–a mix of racism, profiteering, and political posturing–that enables these weapons to be used so freely. He illustrates this point my name-checking NRA chairman Wayne LaPierre from the gun’s perspective, declaring “You better hope we don’t come for ya,” in a delicious bit of poetic irony. He also offers a forceful critique of the Obama administration’s policies on “Change We Can Believe In” from the perspective of a member of the disaffected black community who voted for the current president, noting that “They hate him ‘cause he’s black; we hate him ‘cause he’s wrong.” A “Redux” version of Paris’s 2009 “Martial Law” is included as well, featuring dead prez and Kam. He pulls other themes from the zeitgeist as a means to illustrate his political vision, quoting Jeff Daniel’s now famous monologue from HBO’s The Newsroom on “The Greatest,” and referencing  classic soul music with a sample of Marvin Gaye’s socially-conscious “What’s Going On” on “Pop’s Groove.”

Musically, this album predominantly pulls from the G-Funk tradition, with fat bass lines and the sound of sirens pervading the album.  However, the production seems beside the point at times, as Paris’s true calling seems to always have been his role as a socially-conscious militant, with his activist speech simply taking the form of rap music. The production is solid, but ultimately is less remarkable than the ideological work that the rapper does with his lyrics. Pistol Politics is a powerful radical left indictment of the American social and political system. This album begs to be carefully heard and slowly digested.

Listen on Spotify here.

Reviewed by Matthew Alley