Wes Montgomery – Back on Indiana Avenue: The Carroll DeCamp Recordings

 

Title: Back on Indiana Avenue: The Carroll DeCamp Recordings
Artist: Wes Montgomery
Label: Resonance
Formats: 2-CD set, Limited Ed. LP, Digital
Release date: April 26, 2019

 

Resonance Records has made yet another miraculous discovery, extending its documentation of legendary jazz guitarist Wes Montgomery’s early career and sharing the results with us.  I had the great pleasure of contributing reviews of this company’s two earlier releases that set the stage for the wonderful performances captured on this new release, One Night in Indy and In the Beginning.  For those readers with ties to Indiana, it is worth noting that this release was prepared with assistance of a number of notable artists and scholars, among them David Baker, Duncan Schiedt, Jamey Aebersold, Royce Campbell, and John Edward Hasse.  They, along with others, attempted to identify the musicians who accompanied Wes.  Some possibilities are also identified  in the photographs included in the comprehensive notes that accompany this release. Visible there are Larry Ridley, Melvin Rhyne, David Baker, David Young, Pookie Johnson, Buddy and Monk Montgomery, Carroll DeCamp, and Hal Grant.  But despite their collective wisdom, specific personnel cannot be conclusively linked to each recorded performance. But no matter, the results are consistently musical, reflecting creativity at the highest possible level.  Sound quality proves the considerable care taken in preparing these invaluable recordings. Both the solos and collective interplay among the musicians are clearly captured, bringing the listener right into the spirit of each performance. Continue reading

Wes Montgomery – Smokin’ in Seattle

Smokin
Title: Smokin’ in Seattle: Live at the Penthouse

Artist: Wes Montgomery

Label: Resonance

Formats: CD, Limited Edition LP, MP3

Release date: May 19, 2017

 

This is Resonance Records’ fourth CD release of classic performances by Wes Montgomery, clearly making this label one of the major documenters of Wes’s remarkable career. The first three releases capture Wes’s earliest days performing in Indianapolis and as a leader and member of other small groups.  Smokin’ in Seattle captures his final recorded performance with the Wynton Kelley Trio in a club setting in Seattle two years before his early death. Every follower of Wes’s career must own these four releases.

Wes Montgomery’s earliest recorded appearances were captured when he was a member of Lionel Hampton’s Orchestra, including his first broadcasts in 1948 and continuing on studio recordings released by Decca continuing through early 1950. Resonance Records has played a major role in extending Montgomery’s early recorded legacy with its previous releases, In the Beginning (including the separately issued LP titled Live at the Turf Club), Echoes of Indiana Avenue, and One Night in Indy. The former couples an overlooked Montgomery Brothers session for Columbia Records in 1955 with live performances at the Turf Club in Indianapolis captured in August 1956. The second adds other live recordings from clubs in Indianapolis in 1957-1958, while the latter adds a performance before members of the Indianapolis Jazz Club in 1959.  Wes lived in Indianapolis and was known to local jazz fans, explaining the location of most of these recordings.

Wes’s national reputation began to develop when Pacific Jazz and World Pacific released recordings by the Montgomery Brothers in 1957 through 1959; however, Wes’s career skyrocketed with his move to Riverside Records in October 1959 following the release of his third and classic album for that label, The Incredible Jazz Guitar in January 1960. Almost immediately, guitarists began to flock to clubs to observe Wes and to study his unique style of playing in octaves.  Resonance Records’ third Montgomery CD, One Night in Indy, dates from just months before the start of Wes’s Riverside recordings. All of these Resonance CDs were previously reviewed in Black Grooves.

Wes moved to Verve Records in 1964, capitalizing on his growing fame, and toured Europe in 1965 where a number of bootleg recordings capture his performances on television and in various concert and club settings with small groups. Verve captured his first recording with the Wynton Kelly Trio in an exciting performance in June 1965 at the Half Note; however, Verve increasingly focused on Wes performing as featured soloist with large jazz orchestras and emphasizing more ‘popular’ songs to broaden the sales of his releases. This ultimately led to the final phase of Wes’s career, when he moved to Herb Alpert’s A&M Records.  While these became ‘pop’ recordings, Wes never lost the unique elements of his style.

The latest release from Resonance is Smokin’ in Seattle: Live at the Penthouse, which again features Wes with the Wynton Kelly Trio, is taken from a live FM radio broadcast during a club engagement in Seattle on April 14 and 21, 1966. This places the recording six months after the Montgomery-Kelly Verve release. Other recordings of this notable pairing have appeared, featuring them in 1965; however, Resonance captures their final recorded encounter.  The CD, while clear and well-recorded, is not quite up to the standard of top studio quality sound in capturing the sound of Wes’s guitar; however, the overall quality of the performances more than compensate for this slight imperfection. The musicians complement one another throughout, and Wes performs with gusto. Truly, with this release, Resonance Records has made another notable contribution to the jazz legacy of Wes Montgomery. Jazz fans throughout the world should celebrate.

The CD features the Wynton Kelley Trio (Wynton Kelly on piano, Ron McClure on bass, and Jimmy Cobb, drums) on four of the performances, adding Wes as the featured artist on six others. Unfortunately two of those six are faded out due to union-imposed restrictions on the length of live broadcasts from clubs. Nevertheless, there is much to enjoy.

Wes and Wynton had recorded together several times, beginning with a Riverside session led by vibraphonist Milt Jackson in 1961.  Among the included songs, Wes had previously recorded “Jingles” during the Riverside session with Jackson and “What’s New” and “If You Could See Me Now” with the Wynton Kelly Trio released in their album on Verve. “West Coast Blues,” Wes’s original composition, was a staple in his repertoire, including its first appearance on The Incredible Jazz Guitar.

It is important to point out that the Jobim tune listed on the disc is identified as “O Morro Nao Tem Vez,” while to my ear it is actually “O Amor em Paz (Once I Loved).”  This is but a small distraction and in no way detracts from the care taking to assemble a wonderful release that includes interviews with several musicians and others with connections to the production and original session.

Contents (* features Montgomery on guitar): There Is No Greater Love (7:56) — Not a Tear (6:29) — *Jingles (4:31) — *What’s New (4:51) — *Blues in F (2:44) — Sir John (8:10) — If You Could See Me Now (5:54) — *West Coast Blues (3:56) — *O Morro Não Tem Vez (6:15)  (see note in above paragraph) — *Oleo (2:08).

Reviewed by Thomas P. Hustad

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

Wes Montgomery – One Night in Indy

One Night in Indy

Title: One Night in Indy

Artist: Wes Montgomery featuring the Eddie Higgins Trio

Label: Resonance

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date: January 15, 2016
 

 

With its latest release, One Night in Indy, Resonance Records brings us their third volume in what will be known as a treasury of mostly unknown early recordings of legendary guitarist Wes Montgomery. This release, from a performance recorded in Indianapolis on January 18, 1959, is certainly as exciting as the two that preceded it (In the Beginning and Echoes of Indiana Avenue), and reflects top-level performances by four emerging jazz artists: Wes Montgomery (guitar), Eddie Higgins (piano), unknown (bass), and Walter Perkins (drums).

Let’s begin with a few words about both Eddie Higgins and Wes Montgomery to set the stage. Higgins’ first recording was made early in 1957, and he appeared on many sessions the following year recorded by the Chicago-based Argo Records. This reflected the growing recognition of his talents among his fans in Chicago. The One Night in Indy performance, sponsored by the Indianapolis Jazz Club (hereafter IJC), was mid-way during Eddie’s time with Argo and nine months before he was recorded accompanying Coleman Hawkins at the Playboy Jazz Festival. Yet, despite his growing reputation, Eddie’s first documented performance outside the Chicago area was with Jack Teagarden in Florida in 1963, some four years later.

Clearly the IJC was among the earliest groups to recognize Eddie’s talents and commit funds to bringing him with two others to Indianapolis for this appearance. The notes to the CD state that the drummer was Walter Perkins, also growing his reputation in Chicago while recording on Argo Records with Ahmad Jamal. A likely candidate for bass would have been Bob Cranshaw, since he had recorded with Eddie twice at about this time on Argo Records, and a bit later in the appearance with Coleman Hawkins at the Playboy Jazz Festival; however, when contacted by the CD’s producer, Bob said that this was not him and could not provide any further information. Thus, the bassist remains unidentified, but perhaps other musicians recording for Argo Records could be candidates? Anyhow, the Trio was likely all Chicago-based and probably very familiar with each other’s styles.

Montgomery’s first recordings pre-date Eddie’s by a decade—with Lionel Hampton beginning in 1948—and then a five year gap until he recorded with his brothers at Columbia Records’ New York studios in June 1955. A year later, he was captured on a recording live in Indianapolis. Both performances have been released on Resonance Records, and capture Wes’s earliest development of his unique use of octaves in his soloing. Wes’s fame exploded following the release of his recordings for Riverside Records beginning just nine months after this IJC performance.

One Night in Indy captures Eddie and Wes on the threshold of their growing fame. The tracks on the CD average about eight minutes, allowing lots of space for creative solos and exchanges. Opening with my personal favorite, “Give Me the Simple Life,” the level of interplay among the musicians suggests that it was not the first tune performed that night. Eddie begins with a few pulsing chords leading to Wes’s swinging solo, first voiced with his unique octave style and then alternating with single note lines. Eddie follows and, after a bass solo, this leads to a series of conversational guitar-piano exchanges to close the performance. These delightful exchanges convey the sense of excitement the musicians shared in their unique bandstand encounter. The bass player and drummer provide excellent support throughout, leaving no doubt in my mind that this is a functioning trio and not a pickup group.

On “Prelude to a Kiss,” Wes adopts a richer but denser initial approach that contrasts nicely with Eddie’s light arpeggios that continue throughout his solo. Wes dances through the final bars showing appreciation for Eddie’s contribution, concluding a track that’s delicate and delicious throughout. “Stompin’ at the Savoy” starts in a call and response mode between Eddie and Wes, then Wes takes the first solo while the Trio provides firm support. Eddie solos next, while Wes drops into the background a bit, injecting some notes for selective emphasis as the tempo accelerates. A series of short exchanges follow, with all four musicians participating. They incorporate some short interpolations, among them are rapid allusions to “Give Me Five Minutes More,” “Great Day,” “Lady Be Good,” and other tunes that reflect their joy of performing together.

Their approach to Neil Hefti’s “Li’l Darlin’” can only be described as mellow. Wes and Eddie both have extended solos in this sensitive performance, although Eddie seems to be in the lead, while Wes and the unknown bassist provide rhythmic support, underscoring the collaborative nature of their rendition. Next comes a fine medley of two tunes, listed simply as “Ruby, My Dear” in the accompanying notes, though the performance begins with a solo from Eddie on “Ruby” and then seamlessly segues to “Laura” where Wes solos.

The CD closes with “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To,” opening with a nearly 3 minute performance and solos by Wes. Perhaps he is even sending a signal to the Trio that they should now feel at home in Indianapolis and return often? Certainly the CD provides proof of IJC’s gracious hospitality.

At this point, a bit of additional background on the recording might be helpful, extending and clarifying the information included in the liner notes. Continue reading