John Leslie “Wes” Montgomery was one of the most influential jazz guitarists of the twentieth century. Starting to play guitar in 1943, Wes played a background role with such artists such as Lionel Hampton for years until the late fifties when he started to record. The Incredible jazz guitar of Wes Montgomery, recorded in 1960, was Wes’s first solo recording on the Riverside label and is regarded as one of his best. I can definitely say that it stands up to that claim.
The Wes Montgomery Quartet includes:
Wes Montgomery – Guitar
Tommy Flanagan – Piano
Albert “Tootie” Heath – Drums
Percy Heath - Bass
Wes’s guitar playing is very unique. Instead of using a pick, Wes plays with his thumb, which creates a warm, lushes tone that no one else has. That tone coupled with Wes’s mastery makes for a wonderful combination, as he is very dynamic. Each note that comes out of his instrument is played perfectly with clarity and perfection. And even though he substitutes a plectrum in favor of his thumb, this does not hinder his capabilities at all. He can still play with speed and chops unmatched, as he tackles trademark techniques of his such as the use of octaves and block chords in his soloing. Throughout the album it is clear that Wes Montgomery’s style is unmatched.
With four originals, and four covers, the album is consistent throughout and has a certain flavor to it that’s hard to explain The common structure for some of the faster, more upbeat songs seems to be melody or riff, then a guitar solo, then a piano solo, then either a bass solo or a short drum solo, then melody. This isn’t a bad thing though, and doesn’t get repetitive. In fact, none of this album ever gets old, as I’ve listened to it countless amounts of times and it is near the top of my itunes playcount list. Airegin, the Sonny Rollins Composition that opens the album, is an example of this. Wes tweaks the catchy melody up by making some minor changes to it. My favorite part is when during the end of the solos, Wes repeatedly plays short phrases, then stops, leaving a measure or two for Albert Heath to show off his skills by pounding away some drums fills. D-Natural Blues would be another example of the aforementioned song structure. It is a more mellow song, laden with tasteful bluesy licks spread throughout. It is pretty good, though is weak compared to the other songs on the album.
Polka Dots and Moonbeams, one of the albums two ballads, is a quieter, softer song. The piano has a very delicate sound and on the piano solo, Tommy Flanagan just spirals in and out with ease. Him and Wes’s playing here compliment each other greatly. Occasionally the drums chime in with calm brushed lines to add to the beautiful atmosphere. Gone with the Wind, the second of the albums ballads, follows a similar structure to Polka Dots and Moonbeams but is a little heavier.
The album hits its apex with the two middle tracks Four on Six and West Coast Blues. They seem to be a culmination of what Wes Montgomery is about. Four on Six starts with a bouncy, cool-sounding bass riff played alone at first, but with Wes coming in and playing a melody on top the next time through. Mr. Montgomery’s solo is cool and flowing. After the guitar solo ends, Tommy Flanagan takes over, carrying the energy of the song along. Before the melody is played again at the end, there is a brief drum solo where Albert Heath shows off his control over the drums. West Coast Blues, the subsequent track, is my personal favorite from this album. The band is very relaxed and Wes seems very comfortable during this moderately fast composition which is played in 3/4. His solo is not only one of the best on the album, but one of the best I’ve ever heard. His choice of notes is usually based on an extension of the triad of the current chord being played. He hits all the perfect notes, at times playing quietly before assaulting you with rapid fire block chords or octaves. Every member shines on this track.
Mr. Walker slightly differs from the other songs on the album. It has a Latin vibe to it and is characterized by a strong beat. The band gets in a great groove, as Wes’s solo goes all over the place adding to the overall mood. His phrasing during the solo is very good. The piano encapsulates the mood of the song as well. The album then concludes with Gone with the wind. This song has a swing feel, and is a good way to close the album. The band meshes together well on this one.
Overall, this album is great. It was the first ever jazz album that I listened to, and introduced me to the genre that I have come to love. If you are new to the genre, or don't understand jazz and why people like it, then this is recomended. It’s full of catchy accesible hard bop songs and I know some of you may disagree with my rating but I give it a 5/5. Even if you don't enjoy this as much as I do (And a lot of people don't), I still believe you will atleast think its good.