Recorded in spring 1965, during Wes Montgomery's sole European tour, The NDR Hamburg Studio Recordings presents the guitarist as part of an all-star international octet assembled for a one-off appearance on German television station NDR. The programme was part of a series presenting musicians who did not regularly work together in informal "rehearsal" performances. Montgomery's tour, on which he appeared with both his own quartet and local rhythm sections, has been well documented on official and unofficial recordings. But this is the first time the NDR gig has been released and the audio disc is accompanied by a Blu-ray edition of the studio footage.
Montgomery is at the top of his game and the band is cracking. The four-piece saxophone section comprises Austrian alto saxophonist Hans Koller, American tenor saxophonist Johnny Griffin, and British tenor saxophonist Ronnie Scott and baritone saxophonist Ronnie Ross. The rhythm section is French pianist Martial Solal and bassist Michel Gaudry, and British drummer Ronnie Stephenson. The line-up had not played together before, although individual members had: Griffin, for instance, had toured and recorded with Montgomery in the US in 1962, and Scott had sat in with Montgomery's quartet when they played his club in London the week before the NDR gig).
Although Montgomery was the titular star of the NDR programme, the performance is conducted as a meeting of equals. Everybody gets to solothere are high flyers from Montgomery, Solal, Griffin and Ross and the tunes come from Montgomery ("West Coast Blues," "Four On Six"), Solal, Griffin and Ross, who arranged the horn section. There is also a weighty, slow-tempo reading of Thelonious Monk's "Blue Monk."
Jazz historians will value this glimpse of Montgomeryand also of Ross, who passed in 1991 while still in his fifties. Ross is one of the near forgotten luminaries of first generation British modern jazz, partly because from 1970 onwards he spent most of his time as a session musician. He made a handful of albums between 1958 and 1968, the last one beingCleopatra's Needle (Fontana), which was reissued by Universal in Japan in 2006. Takeaway factoid... In 1959, Ross gave saxophone lessons to twelve-year-old David Bowie, who lived near him, and years later, when Bowie was producing Lou Reed's Transformer (RCA, 1972), he got in touch with Ross and brought him into the studio to play the saxophone solo heard on "Walk On The Wild Side."
West Coast Blues; Four On Six; Last Of The Wine; Here’s That Rainy Day; Opening 2; Blue Grass; Blue Monk; The Leopard Walks; Twisted Blues; West Coast Blues (Encore).
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In addition to writing and editing for All About Jazz, Chris is editor of the British style/culture/history magazine Jocks&Nerds and consultant Afrobeat historian for Google Arts & Culture and Partisan/Knitting Factory Records.