Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Wes Montgomery - In Paris: The Definitive ORTF Recording (Resonance, 2018)

The great guitarist Wes Montgomery was at the height of his powers when he embarked on his only European tour in 1965 (he was terrified of flying) which culminated in this often bootlegged show from Paris where he was in the company of Harold Mabern on piano, Arthur Harper on bass, Jimmy Lovelace on drums and special guest Johnny Griffin sitting in on tenor saxophone for three tracks. It is a gem of an album sitting comfortably with Smokin' at the Half Note and Full House (which also featured Griffin) as one of the guitarist's best live albums. The core quartet opens with two barnstorming uptempo selections, Montgomery's own "Four on Six" and John Coltrane's "Impressions," both of which feature exhilarating ensemble playing and soloing. Mabern is an excellent foil with his soulful piano playing adding a further sense of buoyancy to this uplifting music. Montgomery is magisterial throughout on these dynamic pieces where he drives the band forward with powerful single note soloing and these amazing slashing chords that meet the propulsive rhythm section head on. The subtle balladry of "The Girl Next Door" changes the tone dramatically, with Montgomery taking an unaccompanied opening solo of delicate deeply melodic beauty, and the band enters with quiet brushes adding depth to the music. This moves into "Here's That Rainy Day" which gets a nice rhythmic boost from the drums and Montgomery and Mabern harmonizing on the melody. The group keeps a solid medium tempo and rides the groove it provides into a fine improvised section. Things really pick up again on "Jingles" and "To Wane" which absolutely fly, and it is a pleasure to listen to this locked in group take to the air and really soar. Montgomery's playing is so fast, yet flawless and well articulated. He's never a flashy player, keeping the song and his fellow musicians in mind, but it is that very selflessness that makes his playing so powerful, it's highly complex yet completely accessible. Mabern is particularly impressive on the latter (his composition) with forceful comping and lightning fast soloing. The addition of Johnny Griffin takes this to another level, beginning with "Full House" which is a fine medium tempo vehicle for superb soloing from both Griffin and Montgomery, then moving into a version of Thelonious Monk's "Round Midnight" where one of them scats the melody, getting a laugh and showing the easy camaraderie that the group shared. "Blue 'N Boogie/West Coast Blues" is a medley bridged together with a spellbinding Griffin tenor solo, encompassing his bop roots, tossing off snippets of pop songs with casual glee and getting a lengthy unaccompanied section where he plays with tremendous grace to rousing applause. Not to be outdone, the quartet sans Griffin returns for an encore of "Twisted Blues," allowing everyone the chance to stretch out and blow, play for the sheer enjoyment of it. This was an excellent album, really a major find and addition to Montgomery's discography. The whole band plays with wonderful exuberance, and the leader (and Griffin) are just jaw-dropping. This album is highly recommended to fans of mainstream jazz or any jazz really, it's top shelf stuff all the way. In Paris: The Definitive ORTF Recording - amazon.com

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