The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery
First Appeared in The Music Box, August 2008, Volume 15, #8
Written by John Metzger
Thu August 7, 2008, 06:30 AM CDT
The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery is something of an anomaly in Wes Montgomery’s canon. Originally released in 1960, it was the second album that the Indianapolis-born guitarist recorded after signing with Riverside. Not only was it a departure from the work of the organ-based outfit with which he had developed a local following, but it also hardly provided an indication of the orchestrated pop-leaning arrangements that he later would pursue with both Verve and A&M. Fronting a quartet that featured pianist Tommy Flanagan as well as brothers Percy and Albert Heath, on bass and drums, respectively, Montgomery — with the help of producer Orrin Keepnews — created what many consider to be his finest studio endeavor.
The problem with many recordings that are designed specifically to showcase the skills of a jazz guitarist is that too often they devolve into long-winded displays of technical proficiency. All musicians find it difficult, at times, to keep their egos in check, but for whatever reason, guitarists typically have wrestled with this concept the most. Consequently, their output tends to appeal to other guitarists more than it does to casual music fans.
While listening to The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery, there is no doubt that Montgomery is giving a masterful course in how to play his chosen instrument. Anyone who pays close attention to the notes he hits as well as the chords he strikes is apt to be stunned by how effortlessly he makes the intricate details of his concoctions sound. His solos are delicate dances that move with tremendous fluidity across the gently swinging rhythmic terrain that is supplied by Percy and Albert Heath. His interplay with Flanagan is equally remarkable, and their melodic, give-and-take exchanges make it seem as if they had been performing together for years.
A touch of rock ’n‘ roll filters through the introduction to D-Natural Blues, while the elegantly graceful flow of Dave Brubeck’s In Your Own Sweet Way provided at least a portion of the template that Lee Ritenour utilized for his smooth jazz forays in the 1970s. At its heart, however, The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery is a hard bop endeavor. On West Coast Blues, for example, Montgomery supplies a framework that Miles Davis might have employed, except that he replaces the horns with his own darting guitar licks. Likewise, Four on Six relentlessly pushes forward, its underlying rhythm forming a rapid current upon which Flanagan’s and Montgomery’s solos ride.
Few people knew who Montgomery was when The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery was written, recorded, and released. Therefore, the set’s title was a rather bold pronouncement, one that reeks of an over-the-top marketing campaign. Keepnews admits as much in his liner notes for the recently refurbished rendition of the album. Tellingly, he also makes no apologies for his choice of words. None is necessary either because in this particular case, such lofty praise actually proves to be an apt description of the endeavor.
Other Keepnews Collection Releases
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
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