Title: One Night in Indy
Artist: Wes Montgomery featuring the Eddie Higgins Trio
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