In the mid-twentieth century, Indianapolis was an incubator for jazz talent. Trombonist J.J. Johnson, trumpeter Freddie Hubbard and guitarist Wes Montgomery all began their individual ascents to stardom from the heart of Hoosier country. While the first two artists had long careers, Montgomery wasn't so lucky. This self-taught genius, who burst onto the national scene in 1958, was felled by a fatal heart only a decade later.
In ten short years, Montgomery delivered a string of classic recordings that still serve as a high water mark in the history of jazz guitar, but his untimely demise has left fans eternally thirsting for more. Now, more than forty years after his passing, their wish has been granted with the release of Echoes Of Indiana.
While most posthumously released recordings capture artists in their mid-to-late career glory, this collection is different in that it's actually a prequel to Montgomery's well-documented decade of recording. Its nine tracks were performed in three different settings sometime between 1957 and 1958. Executive producer Michael Cuscuna wisely surmises that they may have been recorded to help Montgomery secure a record deal.
The album opens with a spicy studio take of Shorty Rogers' "Diablo's Dance," featuring an unknown bassist, pianist Melvin Rhyne and drummer Paul Parker. Rhyne returns to the piano for a fiery rendition of "Nica's Dream," but is featured on his favored instrument, the organ, on "'Round Midnight" and "Darn That Dream." While signs of Montgomery's genius come out in various places throughout the album, "'Round Midnight," which would show up shortly on A Dynamic New Sound (Riverside, 1959), is the crown jewel of the ballads included here.
The remaining tracks were all recorded live, though the specifics of dates and locations have been lost to the dustbin of history. Montgomery works with his brothersbassist Monk Montgomery and pianist Buddy Montgomeryon a trio take of "Straight No Chaser." The album closes with a few numbers that may have been recorded at the Hub Bub in Indianapolis. Montgomery and pianist Earl VanRiper trade solos with glee during "Take The A Train." They deliver pleasant strolls through "Misty" and "Body And Soul," with subtle backing from drummer Sonny Johnson and bassist Mingo Jones. The most startling performance is the slow blues jam that ends the album ("After Hours Blues"). Montgomery sounds like a different man on this number, as he sheds his jazz guitar skin and dons a barroom blues man persona.
The sound quality of the recordings may disappoint some, and Montgomery himself sounds unusually tinny at times, but these issues prove to be an extremely small price to pay for the opportunity to hear more music from one of the greatest guitarists that ever walked the earth.
Diablo's Dance; 'Round Midnight; Straight No Chaser; Nica's Dream; Darn That Dream; Take The 'A' Train; Misty; Body and Soul; After Hours Blues.
Wes Montgomery: guitar; Monk Montgomery: bass (3); Buddy Montgomery: piano (3); Mingo Jones: bass (6-9); Earl Van Riper: piano (6-9); Sonny Johnson: drums (6--8); Melvin Rhyne: piano (1, 4), organ (2, 5); Paul Parker: drums (1, 2, 4, 5); Unknown bassist (1, 4).
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