Wes Montgomery – Wes Montgomery In Paris: The Definitive ORTF Recordings – Resonance Records HCD-2032 (2-CD box), 102:47 ****1/2
(Wes Montgomery – guitar; Harold Mabern – piano; Arthur Harper Jr. – double bass; Jimmy Lovelace – drums; with special guest Johnny Griffin – tenor saxophone)
In November, Resonance Records released a rare live recording of a 1965 Wes Montgomery performance. In partnerships with the Institute National de L’Audiovisul (INA). Wes Montgomery – In Paris is notable for many reasons. It is the first time, the Montgomery estate will be paid for this recording which had been previously bootlegged. The concert marked the only overseas trip for Montgomery, and helped to further Zev Feldman’s stalwart recovery of ORTF (Office Of French Radio And Television) material. The initial foray Larry Young – The ORTF Recordings was the first release. Montgomery fronted a quartet consisting of pianist Harold Mabern (Miles Davis, Harry “Sweets” Edison, Donald Byrd), bassist Arthur Harper Jr. (Bud Powell, Heath Brothers, Lee Morgan) and drummer Jimmy Lovelace (Rahsaan Roland Kirk, George Benson, Tony Scott). As a bonus, saxophonist Johnny Griffin (Art Blakey, Thelonious Monk, Lionel Hampton) played on three tracks.
Montgomery (along with Bill Evans) has been an integral part of the ascension of Resonance Records as a prominent jazz label. With four previous releases, Wes Montgomery – In Paris: The Definitive ORTF Recordings is another gem in this collection. Opening the set with a staccato-esque piano drum vamp is an original, “Four On Six”. Originally recorded on the 1960 Riverside album, The Incredible Jazz Guitar Of Wes Montgomery, the up tempo straight ahead jazz number is explosive, and features the guitarist’s trademark ferocity of single notation, octaves and block chording. At the 3:10 mark Mabern solos with crescendo-laden dynamics, as Harper and Lovelace seamlessly anchor the jam. Turning to John Coltrane’s “Impressions”, this translation is compelling with Montgomery soloing extensively with agility and power. There is a variety of call and response as well as rhythmic chords. (Note: the Feldman’s liner notes are very incisive). At 5:41, Mabern offers incendiary runs to match the intensity.
Changing the pace, Montgomery revisits “The Girl Next Door” (from Fusion! Wes Montgomery With Springs). His interpretation is tender and melancholic. The arrangement accomplishes what great jazz does, make popular music (this song was sung by Judy Garland in the 1944 film, Meet Me In St. Louis) complex and artistic.In a similar mold, “Here’s That Rainy Day” is transformed by a latin or bossa nova tempo. Both Montgomery and Mabern create unique solo patterns and complementary finesse. CD 1 concludes with a high-octane version of “Jingles” (from the 1959 Riverside debut, The Wes Montgomery Trio). The guitarist”s unique playing style is intermingled with tempo shifts. Lovelace gets a well-deserved drum solo after some nimble fills. Mabern’s original “To Wane” is another barn-burner. Guitar and piano solos are scintillating and the bop- inspired jazz flows over the audience.
The quartet was on a roll. And then, none other than alto saxophonist Johnny Griffin joins the group for “Full House”. With a swinging waltz time signature, Montgomery lays down various riffs and guitar styles in the 2nd reincarnation (1962 Full House) of this piece. Griffin intones his alto with subtlety at 4:10, bringing a fuller texture to the now quintet. His fluidity is potent. The repeat of the opening refrain is lyrical and has a mellow fade. “Round Midnight” may be Thelonious Monk’s signature composition. Montgomery along with Mabern bring a late night reverence to the opening part. Griffin is bluesy and soulful on his solo with superb tonal command. Wes comes up with a hot lick finish. Griffin shines on the Dizzy Gillespie opus “Blue ’N Boogie” (also from Full House). After Montgomery’s chording eloquence, the veteran saxophonists emulates the whimsical bebop improvisational frameworks, with riffs from “Mexican Hat Dance” and “Turkey In The Straw’ His solo last more than five minutes. Harper’s bass is propulsive. Back to the quartet structure, “Twisted Blues” brings this special occasion to a satisfying close with syncopation, emphatic band rhythm and a solo by Harper.
Resonance has done an excellent job at re-mastering (over five decades later) this concert to modern technology (also available on Vinyl). The mix is even and vibrant. It captures a jazz legend at its peak and preserves a bona fide piece of musical history.
Disc 1: Four On Six; Impressions; The Girl Next Door; Here’s That Rainy Day; Jingles
Disc 2: To Wane; Full House; ‘Round Midnight; Blue ’N Boogie/West Coast Blues; Twisted Blues