“I began working hard and experimenting with techniques, seeking out the ones that felt good and were most expressive of my thoughts. My explorations continued for quite a while… More and more of me passed through my amplifier to those who took the time to listen” – Wes Montgomery
Wes Montgomery, a self taught guitarist, managed to reach a level of total mastery over his instrument that few can understand – he has set the jazz bar so high that an aspiring musician might be torn between feeling grateful and intimidated. His playing of “impossible to play octaves” is a style he has perfected “because, as a self taught musician, he didn’t know it was supposed to be unachievable”. This studio album, recorded in 1960, is so amazing that it was even titled ‘The Incredible Jazz Guitar’, you can’t argue with something like that. This is not one of those phony advertising fronts either, like those books that claim to ‘change your life’ – this is the real deal; everything on the album is nothing short of phenomenal. The Penguin Guide to Jazz added the album to it’s core collection section and stated that it was “probably the best Montgomery record currently available.”
This studio album, along with the two live albums Full House, and Smokin’ at the Half Note, not only encapsulate the pinnacle of Wes Montgomery’s guitar playing, but together they also form a mountain of jazz supremecy that few other albums can rival. These three albums are an excellent introduction into the seemingly infinite ravine of jazz music.
The album starts with the high tempo Aieregin, with it’s catchy riff and frantic piano solo, and is followed by the much more laid back blues/jazz swinger – D Natural Blues, which demonstrates Wes Montgomery’s delicate approach to guitar, and his sweet interpretation of the blues. This song is followed by the even sweeter Polka Dots and Moonbeams, which gracefully floats through cloud after cloud of jazzy dreamscapes created by Wes’ tender guitar phrases. The mood changes with the next number, Four on Six, which has Wes splashing about in puddles of musical creativity as he sculpts an amazing guitar solo. The next song, West Coast Blues, is probably his most famous as it is one of the best examples on record of Wes Montgomery’s three-tier approach to constructing guitar solos, which begins with single lines, then octaves, and finally block chords. Jazz musician and historian, Gunther Schuller describes this unique solo structure as follows:
“The first part consists of a single line, primarily melodic ideas at a moderate dynamic; the second part is conceivably entirely in “Impossible to play” octaves; while the third section continues yet another level, in even “impossibler” block chords, bringing the solo dynamically and in terms of rhythmic density to its ultimate climax – at which point I guarantee the listener will be limp.” – Jazz Review, Vol. 2, no. 8, Sept (1959).
After West Coast Blues, which is just all out from start to finish, Wes takes a break with the heartbreakingly warm ‘In Your Own Sweet Way” which begins with a melody created entirely out of moving chord shapes replacing single notes – an amazing feat (very difficult to play) and the way it effortlessly comes out of Wes is a testament to his talent. Next is Mr. Walker, which has a very unique almost spanish flavour to it, it contains some very exciting guitar phrases and for the most part it sounds like Wes is dancing over the melody. The album ends on a good note with “Gone With the Wind” which contains the subdued jazz-paintbrush-drumming that springs to everyone’s minds when they think of jazz, and also some very mellow guitar lines over some lush piano chords. This song feels like a suitable closer to the energy that was coursing throughout the rest of the album, and will no doubt leave you very satisfied!
- Airegin [4:30]
- D-Natural Blues [5:25]
- Polka Dots and Moonbeams [4:45]
- Four on Six [6:17]
- West Coast Blues [7:27]
- In Your Own Sweet Way [4:55]
- Mr. Walker (Renie) [4:34]
- Gone With the Wind [6:22]
DOWNLOAD (file size only 50.4mb!)
Alternatively, if you want to support the artists (which you should!), you can buy the album here; obviously the choice is yours to make.I have this gem on vinyl and it gets played A LOT!