Guitarist Wes Montgomery, despite his tragically short life, was very prolific and immensely impactful. Equally adept at sophisticated instrumental virtuosity and lighter, more commercially appealing sounds, Montgomery influenced majority of guitar players who appeared on the jazz scene during the 1960s and after.
Montgomery cut his first record Fingerpickin'
for Pacific Jazz in 1958 at the age of 35. During the preceding decade, however, Montgomery performed regularly despite having a "day job" at a factory. With In The Beginning (Early Recordings From 1949-1958)
the non-for-profit label, Resonance Records, has put together 26 newly discovered tracks that highlight Montgomery at the beginning of his stellar career.
Chronologically the three earliest sides are from 1949 under the tenor saxophonist Gene Morris' leadership. They were released originally as 78 rpm discs and have been long out of print. Morris was a California based saxophonist with a honking R and B flavored style. He spend some time with vibraphonist Lionel Hampton
's big band and this where he, most likely, met Montgomery. "Carlena's Blues," for instance, opens with Morris' soulful, boisterous sax that Montgomery's reverberating strings echo. Montgomery's own embellishments of the melody show distinctly boppish elements. The song features vocalist Sonny Parker, another one of Hampton's sidemen, who shouts the lyrics with rousing emotion laced with whimsy
The only other previously issued piece, "Love for Sale," comes from a 1955 session recorded by trumpeter and producer Quincy Jones
for Epic. Drummer Sonny Johnson's sharp cymbals and pianist Buddy Montgomery
's percussive chords open the standard. Tenorist Alonzo Johnson blows passionately over the bubbling rhythms. Wes Montgomery's cooler, thrillingly agile solo complements Alonzo Johnson's languid incandescence. Buddy Montgomery contributes a lithe cascade of spontaneous notes followed by his brother, bassist, Monk Montgomery
's virtuosic handling of his electric axe. Sonny Johnson ushers in the conclusion with a brief burst of exciting rumble.
Four other tracks from this date see the light of day for the first time on this intriguing double disc set. Wes Montgomery's own composition "Far Wes" is a languid ballad with Alonzo Johnson and Wes Montgomery, in tandem, unhurriedly stating and elaborating on the engaging theme. Montgomery takes his turn in the spotlight with an intimate and eloquent series of spontaneous phrases. Buddy Montgomery showcases his lyrical side with a warm and flowing pianism.
The bulk of the material, however, comes from live sets at the Turf Club (in Indianapolis
) and a jam session at the home of one of the Montgomery sisters. A 22-year-old Butler College student named Philip Kahl made these recordings and the sound quality is passable but far from pristine. The performances, however, bristle with vibrancy. The group, the Montgomery-Johnson Quintet is the same as the on the Epic cuts. "Wes' Tune" another Wes Montgomery original, for example, starts off with his deep blue hued masterful extemporization. Alonzo Johnson plays with gusto and funky swagger while Buddy Montgomery lays down dense piano lines with riveting alacrity.
Vocalist Debbie Andrews joins the quintet on a later date at the same venue. Her dramatic and ardent singing highlights the spirited and gospelish "Going Down To Big Mary's." Wes Montgomery sonorous and uplifting tones underscore the infectious enthusiasm of the song. Alonzo Johnson, meanwhile, performs with exuberance and bravado as Andrews and audience egg him on with shouts and clapping.
"Ralph's New Blues" finds the Montgomery brothers experimenting with alternate instrumentation. Buddy Montgomery switches to vibraphone and Wes Montgomery to electric bass. The living room jamming has all the spontaneity of an impromptu concert in a relaxed ambience. Wes Montgomery deftly handles the bass coaxing out of it a conversational and expressive soliloquy. Pianist Jack Coker extemporizes with simmering passion and intelligent, complex phrases. Buddy Montgomery and Sonny Johnson wrap up the tune with an electrifying, stormy duet; the former produces a crystalline chiming sonic deluge while the latter thunders and percolates.
A single 1957 track from a Chicago
nightspot is included. This rare gem spotlights Wes Montgomery and Alonzo Johnson with an unknown band stretching out on Jerome Kern's "All The Things You Are." Wes Montgomery thrills the audience with his acrobatics and laidback sense of swing. Elements of his uniqueness are already apparent by this date. Alonzo Johnson's own monologue brims with sensitivity as well as intense fervor. The pair delightfully deconstructs the melody with a stimulating call and response.
The most recent of these tracks come from live appearances at the Missile Club that took place in 1958. On "Robbins' Nest" Pianist Richie Crabtree
and drummer Paul Parker
create an absorbing atmosphere with their tumbling notes and easygoing thuds and thrums. Monk Montgomery adds intricate, walking bass lines while Wes Montgomery takes and inventive, muscular solo. All the fundamental components of his signature style are already on display here. An engrossing and charming dialogue with Crabtree closes the piece.
As with all of Resonance's historic releases this superb two-CD set includes a booklet with informative and compelling essays and rare photographs. Despite a few technical limitations In the Beginning
is a nonpareil discovery that illuminates the beginnings of Montgomery's legendary career. It also places Montgomery's sublime musicianship in the context of his talented family and early associations and inspirations.