Wes Montgomery – In the Beginning – Resonance Records (3 LP set)

Wes Montgomery – In the Beginning – Resonance Records HLP 9014 – Deluxe limited edition mono 180 gm. (3 LP set) hand-numbered pressing of 1500, Sessions from 1949-1958 – Includes 8 panel booklet & collectors’ postcards – Mastered by Bernie Grundman ****:

(Wes Montgomery – electric guitar, electric bass; Alonzo “Pookie” Johnson, Gene Morris – tenor sax; Richie Crabtree, Douglas Duke, Buddy Montgomery, Melvin Rhyne – piano; Buddy Montgomery – vibes; John Dale, Roy Johnson, Monk Montgomery, Flip Stewart – bass; Sonny Johnson, Paul Parker, Earl “Fox” Walker – drums; Debbie Andrews, Sonny Parker – vocals)

For fans of Wes Montgomery the riches continue… When Resonance Records released Echoes of Indiana in 2012, it had been four decades since previously-unreleased material from Montgomery had surfaced. Often times the impact of such an event brings on new revelations much sooner once the floodgates open. Now just three years later, Resonance has tackled an even bigger historical project covering a nine year period (1949-1958) – in many venues – where a young Wes is establishing his style and revealing his influences.

In reverse album order we travel from 1949 in Fresno, California, where Montgomery recorded two tracks with a quintet and adding vocalist, Sonny Parker, on “Smooth Evening.” Next is a major “find,” a previously unissued June 1955 session produced by Quincy Jones for Epic Records (Side E). It covered three standards and three original tunes in a group that included Wes’ brothers, Buddy (piano) and Monk (bass). 1956 found Wes back in Indianapolis and doing recorded gigs at The Turf Club (one and a half albums worth). A real treat is the inclusion from Sept 8, 1956 of “Ralph’s Blues” recorded at the home of Wes’ sister, where we get to hear Wes tackle the electric bass.

We then jump forward to a 1957 stop at C&C Lounge in Chicago. There the Jerome Kern standard, “All the Things You Are” is explored by Wes and Pookie Johnson on tenor sax. In November 1958 (the year that Wes Montgomery burst nationally on the scene with major label releases), Wes recorded “Soft Winds” and “Robbins Nest” at The Missile Lounge in Indianapolis.

The nine year period covered on In the Beginning show an artist developing his finger-picking style with heavy use of octaves. His influence on jazz guitar at the time was second only to Charlie Christian in historical perspective. The release of this treasure trove of new material is like manna from heaven for fans of early electric jazz guitar. Adding to the allure of this exciting music from the beginning of Wes’ career are essays and anecdotes from historians and musicians, Quincy Jones, Pete Townshend, Bill Milkowski, Ashley Kahn, and project producer Zev Feldman. Also included is an excerpt from Buddy Montgomery’s unpublished biography and a conversation with jazz photographer Duncan Schiedt.

The 26 tracks on the three LPs provide an early glimpse into the development of a pivotal major jazz talent. Memorable moments include the interaction between Wes and his brothers on the well-recorded Epic Sessions of June 15, 1955. Pookie Johnson on tenor sax fit in well. But I wish the mic would have been placed closer to Wes playing electric bass at his sister’s house. Wes could “keep time” well.

Just another night at the club for patrons of the Missile Lounge in Indianapolis on Nov. 22, 1958. They’d pay a lot more to see Wes in a few years…The Turf Club recordings of 1956 are the best recorded live sessions here.

For Wes Montgomery fans with turntables, this will be a recommended purchase. (The set is also available on CDs.)

TrackList:

Side A:
After You’ve Gone, Fascinating Rhythm, Brazil, What is There to Say, Four
Side B:
Wes’ Tune, My Heart Stood Still, How High the Moon, Django
Side C:
Going Down to Big Mary’s, I Should Care, Caravan, Six Bridges to Cross, Ralph’s Blues
Side D:
Soft Winds, Robbins’ Nest
Side E:
Night in Tunisia, Love for Sale, Leila, Blues, Undecided, Far Wes
Side F:
All the Things You Are, King Trotter, Carlena’s Blues, Smooth Evening

—Jeff Krow

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