Jazz editor Tony Andrews writes .....
As a true Jazz Fan will know, only too well, there are many outstanding Jazz Guitarists from The US and to pick a favourite is virtually impossible …. if you are attempting the approach based exclusively on musical skill.
If you choose to decide on either personal preference or musicality then Wes Montgomery has to be at the top or close behind on my list of the best. I decided it was only fair to review and compare two CD's which are at the pinnacle of his earlier Riverside CD's. First .... the Incredible Jazz Guitar with Tommy Flanagan on piano, Percy Heath on bass and Albert Heath on drums is a good place to start. In particular, considering it was recorded in 1960, the recording quality is very warm and full sounding but, truth be told, missing slightly on the higher frequencies. That said, the overall effect is a very lifelike; very relaxed.
All 8 tracks are delightful to listen to and Polka Dots and Moonbeams is possibly the best know tune here. I always feel that these early Riverside Recordings have a distinctive quality. This would be perfect to relieve stress whilst driving or having a dinner party as background music.
Wes later appeared to develop an even softer approach to playing; increased usage of his thumb; an approach which worked very well with a larger orchestra. Fortunately, but unsurprisingly, his fame justified these huge recording budgets. A box-set is available including five of his Riverside Recordings including the two in this review and at a bargain price. Each CD is in a cardboard Mini Record Sleeve; well produced and very attractive for Collectors.
I love this CD but ….. it comes a close second in my favourites to A Dynamic New Sound which was recorded the previous year in 1959.
This CD features Melvin Rhyne on organ and Paul Parker on drums and is so laid back that it could help if you have a problem with insomnia. This often sends me in to a trance with the interaction between Wes on guitar and Melvyn Rhyne playing with a very original (possibly even unique) muted organ sound.
I was very fortunate to find a version of this recording on SACD many years back and if you can find one you’ll find it is a revelation; showing what creative mastering in this format can do.
The SACD version is crisper and you can hear the ambience of the recording studio quite clearly. These do sell for lots of cash but I found my copy at CD prices and treasure it.
The first track is the best version of Round Midnight I have in my collection but every track is fabulous with Yesterdays, The End of a Love Affair, Whisper Not and Ecorah (by Horace Silver) all on the first side of the original vinyl record.
I particularly love Missile Blues which is composed by Wes Montgomery. Now considering this CD was recorded a year earlier in 1959 it seems to be much more modern in sound and as the title suggests, it has exceptional dynamics and uses something referred to as Phantom Speaker Technology which uses a microphone to fill in the middle gap left between the Left & Right Channels. This must have been State of The Art in 1959 and may well be why the SACD Version works so well.
I can't quite make my mind up if this is my favourite jazz guitar CD of all time or not I originally bought the Vinyl Record whist still at school, I loved it then and I love it still.