American jazz guitarist Wes Montgomery. Most of its tracks are considered to be the best examples of Wes Montgomery's two distinguishing techniques - "thumb picking" and the use of octaves.
The album is considered by many fans and critics to be the pinnacle of Montgomery's recorded studio work. The Penguin Guide to Jazz
selected this album as part of its suggested "Core Collection", calling
it "probably the best Montgomery record currently available".
Of the CD reissue, critic Chris May of All About Jazz
wrote: "The Incredible Jazz Guitar burst onto the US scene in 1960 like
a benign hurricane, and it still sounds like a gale almost 50 years
later... Montgomery—empathetically accompanied by pianist Tommy Flanagan, bassist Percy Heath (then riding high with the Modern Jazz Quartet), and drummer Albert Heath—makes
the guitar sound like it never had before. It has sounded similar
since, of course, thanks to the legion of Montgomery-influenced players,
but rarely so close to perfection.... The Incredible Jazz Guitar
endures, and will continue to do so.
The incredible Wes Montgomery
of 1960 was more discernible and distinctive than the guitarist who
would emerge a few years later as a pop stylist and precursor to George Benson in the '70s. On this landmark recording, Montgomery veered away from his home Indianapolis-based organ combo with Melvin Rhyne, the California-based Montgomery Brothers band, and other studio sidemen he had been placed with briefly. Off to New York City and a date with Tommy Flanagan's trio, Montgomery
seems in his post- to hard bop element, swinging fluently with purpose,
drive, and vigor not heard in an electric guitarist since bop
progenitor Charlie Christian. Setting him apart from the rest, this recording established Montgomery
as the most formidable modern guitarist of the era, and eventually its
most influential. There's some classic material here, including the
cat-quick but perhaps a trifle anxious version of the Sonny Rollins bop evergreen "Airegin," the famous repeated modal progressive and hard bop jam "Four on Six," and Montgomery's
immortal soul waltz "West Coast Blues," effortlessly rendered with its
memorable melody and flowing, elegant chiffon-like lines. Flanagan,
at a time shortly after leaving his native Detroit, is the perfect
pianist for this session. He plays forcefully but never overtly so on
the bop tracks, offering up his trademark delicacy on the laid-back
"Polka Dots and Moonbeams" and easy-as-pie "Gone with the Wind." With
the dynamic Philadelphia rhythm section of brothers Percy Heath on bass and drummer Albert Heath, they play a healthy Latin beat on the choppy and dramatic melody of Montgomery's original "Mr. Walker." Montgomery
is clearly talented beyond convention, consistently brilliant, and
indeed incredible in the company of his sidemen, and this recording --
an essential addition to every jazz guitarist fan's collection -- put
him on the map.
As the very useful liner notes to this release point out, this 1960
recording was a bit of a coming-out party for Montgomery, arguably the
best and most influential jazz guitarist of the last half century. The
title is not hyperbole; the guitar playing here is indeed incredible,
although Wes sets aside mere flash for meaningful swing.
guitarist benefits from a crack band behind him: Al and Percy Heath on
drums and bass, respectively, and the flawless Tommy Flanagan on piano.
Flanagan had shortly before this date contributed mightily to
Coltrane's "Giant Steps," and his ability to seamlessly slip in behind
Montgomery on a date that couldn't be more different than Coltrane's is
testimony to his taste and his chops.
Wes's startling chording will
be a revelation to those who haven't heard him before, but even if
you've listened to him a lot you'll still find his work on, for
example, "Four on Six" and "West Coast Blues" immensely satisfying. On
both these cuts, he flows endlessly between chords and octaves,
creating a smooth river of sound. Beautiful.
Also of note is his
treatment of "Polka Dots and Moonbeams," a chestnut that Wes turns into
a lovely romance that sounds new and fresh. This is a great CD for the
jazz guitar lover, who will realize immediately that it doesn't get
much better than this.
This is my favorite Jazz Guitar album and one that I've had for some
time, first on a cassette that I got from my brother and eventually on
CD. I used to listen to this in my car and didn't even know the names
of the songs or who had written them. All I knew was that I really dug
Montgomery's guitar playing.
After getting the 1987 version of
the CD, I learned that the album included Sonny Rollins' "Airegin", Dave
Brubeck's "In Your Own Sweet Way", 2 standards, and 4 originals by
Montgomery. I also learned that his supporting cast included Tommy
Flanagan on piano and the Heath brothers on bass and drums.
album is a real pleasure to listen to, not just for Montgomery's truly
incredible guitar playing, but also for the relaxing atmosphere all 4
musicians create. This is a perfect album to play late at night before
going to bed; just turn down the lights, lie down on your couch, and let
the music soothe your soul.
My only complaint about the CD I
owned (the 1987 remastering) was that the sound was kind of muddy.
While reviewing that version, I learned that this "Keepnews Collection"
version had been released, so I ordered it to compare the sound. It
does have slightly better sound, mainly stronger bass. In retrospect, I
suspect that the "muddiness" I heard in the 1987 version was mostly in
Montgomery's own sound or in the source tapes.
The real value of
the 2008 version, however, is the new booklet with a new essay by Orin
Keepnews, who produced the original sessions. He explains how he first
heard about Montgomery from Cannonball Adderly, talks about the first
two records (including this one) that Montgomery cut for Riverside, and
explains the boastful title. He also puts the album in the broader
context of Montgomery's brief but brilliant 9 year career.
1. "Airegin" (Sonny Rollins) – 4:26
2. "D-Natural Blues" (Wes Montgomery) – 5:23
3. "Polka Dots and Moonbeams" (Jimmy Van Heusen) – 4:44
4. "Four on Six" (Montgomery) – 6:15
5. "West Coast Blues" (Montgomery) – 7:26
6. "In Your Own Sweet Way" (Dave Brubeck) – 4:53
7. "Mr. Walker" (Montgomery) – 4:33
8. "Gone With the Wind" (Allie Wrubel) – 6:24
Songs 1, 2, 4, 5, and 6 recorded at Reeves Sound Studios, NYC, January 26, 1960
Songs 3, 7, and 8 recorded at Reeves Sound Studios, NYC, January 28, 1960
Riverside RLP 12-320, RLP 1169; Fantasy OJC 036, OJCCD 036-2
Wes Montgomery- electric guitar
Tommy Flanagan - piano
Percy Heath - bass
Albert Heath - drums