Saturday, January 14, 2017

Wes Montgomery - 1963 [2010] "Boss Guitar"

Boss Guitar is the ninth album by American jazz guitarist Wes Montgomery, released in 1963 by Riverside Records.
It has been reissued by Original Jazz Classics with additional alternate takes. All the tracks are available on the Wes Montgomery compilation CD The Complete Riverside Recordings.

Before he moved away from straight-ahead jazz and starting playing what is now known as smooth jazz, Wes Montgomery was one of bop's finest guitarists. Montgomery's bop period ended much too soon, but thankfully, he recorded his share of rewarding bop albums when he was still bop-oriented -- and one of them is Boss Guitar, which Orrin Keepnews produced in 1963. It's a trio recording, employing Mel Rhyne on organ and Jimmy Cobb on performances that have held up well over time; Montgomery shows how expressive a ballad player he could be on the standards "For Heaven's Sake" and "Days of Wine and Roses," but the fast tempo exuberance of "The Trick Bag" (a Montgomery original) serves him equally well. Montgomery swings the blues with pleasing results on "Fried Pies" (another Montgomery original), while Consuelo Velázquez's "Besame Mucho" (which is usually played at a slow ballad tempo) is successfully transformed into medium-tempo Latin jazz. Boss Guitar is among the bop-oriented Montgomery albums that should continue to be savored after all these years. [In addition to the eight master takes that were heard on the original '60s LP, some reissues contain alternate takes of "Besame Mucho," "The Trick Bag," and "Fried Pies" -- all of which will interest collectors.] 

All guitarists should explore work outside their genre to fully appreciate the remarkable diversity their instrument holds. In the case of Montgomery, his is the quintessential bebop flavored jazz guitar player, and in my estimation, the best ever, and that's in some pretty heavy company.
Joined by Mel Ryne on Hammond B-3 organ, "Boss Guitar" has a unique sound, as Ryne plays a wonderfully smoky and smooth organ, which compliments Wes' playing brilliantly. "Besame Mucho" starts the album off with a Latin flavor, and the CD just seems to float by. Another favorite is "Canadian Sunset", a slower but delicate song that features some of the best chord work on the CD. Fans like to comment on Wes' famous octave picking, which has been copied by tons of players out of admiration, but his truly strong suit, besides being capable of mind blowing solos, is his chordal knowledge that few ever equalled, adding breadth to the playing and more color than any single note solo could hope to do.
Wes Montgomery's late '50's work and early '60's albums are his best, where he stays true to his love of bebop, whereas later albums were more commercial and lacking in his usual technique. While they aren't bad, it's the early stuff to go after. "So Much Guitar!", "Far Wes" and "Wes Montgomery Plays The Blues" are all must haves, along with "Boss Guitar." It is a tragedy this genius only lived to 43. Perhaps no single guitarist's death had more of an impact except for Jimi Hendrix, who was known to do a little octave picking himself. It's how jazz guitar is supposed to be done.

Wes Montgomery recorded Boss Guitar at age 38, near the end of his acclaimed Riverside years and just five years before his death. While the records that followed would give him some radio hits (and lose him some fans), the 1963 session was a time when he really could make the bold claim of the album’s title. The previous year, Montgomery had placed fourth in the then influential Playboy Jazz Poll among reader ballots, and had been named “All-Stars’ All-Star Guitar” among voting musicians (an electorate that included Cannonball Adderley, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Paul Desmond, Duke Ellington, Stan Getz, Dizzy Gillespie, Oscar Peterson and Frank Sinatra, among others).

The “musician’s musician” status might be explained by his associations. He had already played with Coltrane and Lionel Hampton at the time, but most of the guitar boss’s career was spent as boss, leading bands and primarily—as on this release—leading organ trios. His finishing behind Chet Atkins, Barney Kessel and Charlie Byrd in the reader’s poll, on the other hand, might be explained by his keeping his home in Indianapolis, rather than moving to one of the coastal hotbeds.

The role of boss carries through to the way he worked with his trio. Montgomery had often employed Mel Rhyne’s organ for his sessions. Drummer Jimmy Cobb had worked with Adderley, Coltrane, Davis, Getz, Gillespie and Billie Holiday. But both were primarily backing musicians, and scarcely solo throughout the eight tracks cut for the album. It is Boss Guitar, front and center. Which isn’t too much of a good thing. Montgomery was a naturally lyrical player, hopping octaves with ease, never sounding out of place but never predictable. He sashays through “Besame Mucho” and strolls along “Days of Wine and Roses.” And while the trio mostly plays popular songs of the day, the two Montgomery compositions here stand out among the rest. “The Trick Bag” is a simmering workout with great interplay among the organ and drums, and “Fried Peas” is an infectious roll.

This issue is newly remastered (with the latest bit of logo-worthy technology) and includes the original liner notes as well as the notes from the 1989 reissue. Two bonus tracks (also on the 1989 version) don’t stray far from the original versions, but do keep the party going a little longer.

Track listing

 01  "Besame Mucho" (Consuelo Velázquez, Sunny Skylar) – 6:28
 02   "Besame Mucho" [Alternate take] (Velazquez, Skylar) – 6:24
 03   "Dearly Beloved" (Jerome Kern, Johnny Mercer) – 4:49
 04    "Days of Wine and Roses" (Henry Mancini, Johnny Mercer) – 3:44
 05   "The Trick Bag" (Wes Montgomery) – 4:25
 06   "Canadian Sunset" (Eddie Heywood, Norman Gimbel) – 5:04
 07   "Fried Pies" (Montgomery) – 6:42
 08   "Fried Pies" Alternate take (Montgomery) – 6:35
 09   "The Breeze and I" (Ernesto Lecuona, Al Stillman) – 4:08
 10   "For Heaven's Sake" (Elise Bretton, Sherman Edwards, Donald Meyer) – 4:39

Personnel

    Wes Montgomery – guitar
    Melvin Rhyne – organ
    Jimmy Cobb – drums

5 comments:

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