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Wes Montgomery: In Paris: The Definitive ORTF Recording

Geno Thackara By

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Resonance Records has done it again—where it is polishing up an old find for the great-sounding and excellently-presented (and not least, legitimate) release it deserves. As par for the label's course, this package boasts quality mastering and a top-notch insert of liner notes, photos and background commentary. It also marks this famous performance's first authorized release honoring the rights of the artist's estate and family.

And what a performance it is. Wes Montgomery listeners who haven't hunted down the bootlegs might still be aware of the general background: the guitarist's 1965 tour of Europe would turn out to be the only one he made in his short life, and the March 27th show from Paris has been regarded as one of his all-time finest. It's an arbitrary designation of course, but one doesn't need to compare with other shows to hear something special here. This is simply a snapshot of a cooking band on a magical night, and anyone coming to Paris for the first time (so to speak) can tell why this gig has kept its reputation all those decades.

Longtime listeners can't help recognizing the mid-'60s as a pivotal time for Montgomery, considering the polarizing period of smoother, more accessible "pop jazz" he drifted toward next. Skeptics of that phase need not worry here, though, as the program is an exuberant romp of bebop and blues. A couple spots tone it down to show the leader's distinct feel for simple balladry. He tastefully glides his way through "The Girl Next Door" and a smoky read of "'Round Midnight"—although the latter still gets a surprising jolt from guest saxophonist Johnny Griffin, who sits in on three late-set blows and spurs the others to ever more energetic heights.

The freewheeling spirit of bop is the show's guiding tone, especially with Harold Mabern's rollicking piano and the cooking rhythm section keeping snappy pace. Montgomery himself is in top form, loosely weaving his trademark fingerpicked leads and slash-chord solos with elegance. It's a shame European audiences never got to experience him in person again; it's a bigger shame that everyone else also lost that chance before too much longer. Nonetheless, we have In Paris to finally give another vivid and most exciting taste of what it was like. Better 53 years late than never.

Track Listing: CD1: Four on Six; Impressions; The Girl Next Door; Here's That Rainy Day; Jingles. CD2: To Wane; Full House; 'Round Midnight; Blue 'n Boogie/West Coast Blues; Twisted Blues.

Personnel: Wes Montgomery: guitar; Harold Mabern: piano; Arthur Harper: bass; Jimmy Lovelace: drums; Johnny Griffin: tenor saxophone (2-2, 2-3, 2-4).

Title: In Paris: The Definitive ORTF Recording | Year Released: 2018 | Record Label: Resonance Records

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