425

Wes Montgomery: The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery

Chris May By

Sign in to view read count
Wes Montgomery: The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery Ask a dozen jazz guitar fans for their all-time top guitar albums and The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery is likely to be high on every list. If it isn't, chances are Montgomery's live set Full House (Riverside, 1962), recorded two years later, will be. With these discs, Indianapolis-born Montgomery (1923-68) gave the guitar its biggest quantum leaps forward, both stylistically and in terms of listener acceptance, since Charlie Christian in the late 1930s/early 1940s and Johnny Smith in the 1950s. Full House got the 24-bit remastering treatment in 2007 as part of Riverside's Keepnews Collection series, supervised and annotated by label founder/producer Orrin Keepnews. Now The Incredible Jazz Guitar joins it.



Almost entirely self-taught (initially by immersing himself in Christian's recordings with clarinetist Benny Goodman's chamber groups), and unable to read a note of music, by 1959—when he was brought to Keepnews' attention by saxophonist Cannonball Adderley, who'd been gigging in Indianapolis—Montgomery had developed a revolutionary new approach to the instrument. His style featured three signature elements: he played with his thumb, never a pick, and he improvised entire choruses using either octaves or pianistic block chords. None of these techniques were unique, but until Montgomery came along no other guitarist had mastered them so completely (let alone combined them) or made them so integral to sound and improvisation. An exception is Smith, whose Moonlight in Vermont (Roulette, 1953) and later albums featured extended passages of block chording as beautiful and fluid as Montgomery's.



The Incredible Jazz Guitar burst onto the US scene in 1960 like a benign hurricane, and it still sounds like a gale almost 50 years later. Over four bluesy originals, the standards "Polka Dots And Moonbeams" and "Gone With The Wind," Dave Brubeck's gorgeous "In Your Own Sweet Way" and a fast-paced reading of Sonny Rollins' "Airegin," Montgomery—empathetically accompanied by pianist Tommy Flanagan, bassist Percy Heath (then riding high with the Modern Jazz Quartet), and drummer Albert Heath—makes the guitar sound like it never had before. It has sounded similar since, of course, thanks to the legion of Montgomery-influenced players, but rarely so close to perfection.



In his revealing new extended liner notes, Keepnews, born within a few days of Montgomery and at 85 a fluent anecdotal historian, paints a vivid portrait of Montgomery as a musician and as a private person. He expresses some regret that he was unable to give Montgomery the big mainstream audience he achieved with producer Creed Taylor on Verve and CTI 1964-68 (but is proud that Montgomery's Riverside recordings made no attempt at pop crossover)—and some embarrassment over the lack of alternate takes or bonus tracks (the reissued Full House by contrast had both), recalling the many Riverside archive tape boxes he's come across with the original data crossed out and supplanted by something later. But he doesn't beat himself up about it, and nor should he. At 43:58 divine minutes, The Incredible Jazz Guitar endures, and will continue to do so.

Track Listing: Airegin; D-Natural Blues; Polka Dots and Moonbeams; Four on Six; West Coast Blues; In Your Own Sweet Way; Mr. Walker; Gone With The Wind.

Personnel: Wes Montgomery: guitar; Tommy Flanagan: piano; Percy Heath: bass; Albert Heath: drums.

Year Released: 2008 | Record Label: Riverside | Style: Straight-ahead/Mainstream


Shop

More Articles

Read Adam's Apple CD/LP/Track Review Adam's Apple
by Greg Simmons
Published: April 26, 2017
Read Dreamsville CD/LP/Track Review Dreamsville
by Jack Bowers
Published: April 26, 2017
Read April CD/LP/Track Review April
by Jerome Wilson
Published: April 26, 2017
Read Small World CD/LP/Track Review Small World
by Edward Blanco
Published: April 26, 2017
Read High Time CD/LP/Track Review High Time
by C. Michael Bailey
Published: April 26, 2017
Read Rags And Roots CD/LP/Track Review Rags And Roots
by James Nadal
Published: April 25, 2017
Read "Live At The Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival" CD/LP/Track Review Live At The Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival
by Troy Dostert
Published: January 3, 2017
Read "Interlude: Atticus Live!-The Music of Jesse Lewis" CD/LP/Track Review Interlude: Atticus Live!-The Music of Jesse Lewis
by Karl Ackermann
Published: November 29, 2016
Read "North" CD/LP/Track Review North
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: August 3, 2016
Read "Flow" CD/LP/Track Review Flow
by Budd Kopman
Published: July 9, 2016
Read "Rehab Reunion" CD/LP/Track Review Rehab Reunion
by Geno Thackara
Published: June 11, 2016
Read "Nwayo" CD/LP/Track Review Nwayo
by James Nadal
Published: June 24, 2016

Post a comment

comments powered by Disqus

Sponsor: ECM RECORDS | BUY NOW  

Support our sponsor

Support All About Jazz's Future

We need your help and we have a deal. Contribute $20 and we'll hide the six Google ads that appear on every page for a full year!