“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.”
If this album were a dinosaur then it would be one those big green ones with long necks. And no, that is not an insult, an album has to do something really impressive to get me to compare it to a dinosaur, especially one that has such a height advantage over all the others. This dinosaur is also a herbivore – it comes in peace, and this album is no exception, it delivers sweet and soulful jazz, the perfect backdrop for a relaxed state of mind.
I found out about this album because I’m a huge fan of George Benson, the great jazz guitarist, who plays guitar on this joint. To my suprise, it was actually the saxophonist, Stanley Turrentine, that really stood out here, even outshining George a little! His tone is phenomenal and really leaks from his soul, his use of vibrato for example is more expressive than most sax players. It has to be heard to be believed, George Benson is fantastic as always, delivering his guitar leads like only a black jazz musician can. The album is only 5 songs long, and each song ranges from the 10-14 minute mark; this is what jazz is all about. The absolute highlight is the live recording of Sugar, it will give you chills. Download it here to get yourself a taste of the magic.
This is easily the second best live jazz album ever created, second only to Smokin’ at the Half Note which was recorded three years later than this one. Both these albums share four things in common.
- Wes Montgomery - Wes is on fire here, showing absolute mastery over his instrument. Rarely do you get to hear someone’s soul vibrate within an instrument like you do here. Wes’ playing is extremely technical, but sweet and simple at the same time. Effortless mastery.
- Miles Davis’ Rythm Section - Paul Chambers on bass and Jimmy Cobb on drums = one tight rhythm section. The rhythm section of a band is like the plot of a novel; it needs to be tight as it holds everything together. These guys have laid the foundation for a lot of Miles Davis’ magic, so you as a listener are in safe ears with these guys – they know a thing or two about jazz.
- Wynton Kelly - This guy also rolled with Miles Davis, and he is a fantastic pianist. His piano lines are melodic and thoughtful, they complement Wes Montgomery’s playing style perfectly. When it comes to the improvisations Wynton and Wes have each others backs. When Wyton wants to solo Wes will cool off and start comping (jazz term for playing chords!), and when Wynton is out of steam he’ll do the same for Wes – beautiful jazz is the result.
- It’s Live, Yo! - This is what makes this and ‘Smokin’ at the Half Note’ so special, the live jazz atmosphere that epitomises what the genre of music is all about – completely spontaneous human expression through vibrant musical conversation. No punches are held back here, it’s all out from the word GO. No musician lags behind for a breather, they all fish the seas of creativity and haul a monster for us to feast our ears on.
This album gets 5/5 stars without saying, I’ve actually never given an album a star rating in any of my reviews. But no album has really moved me like this one has, and therefore it is the one of the only albums that deserved a place amongst the stars. Download it! OR Buy the album!
I have a very large collection of jazz music, and have been listening to a bunch of records for a long time, but this album in particular has always stood out as my absolute favourite. It would be an understatement to say it is essential listening for any jazz guitar enthusiast. No album captures the smoky atmosphere of a few jazz cats doin’ their thing live like this one does. The sound quality is really solid – Wes Montgomery’s guitar lines come out of his amp like thick punches of sound, mellow and round but very articulate: the ultimate jazz guitar tone. The band consists of Miles Davis’ legendary rhythm section of Paul Chambers (bass) and Jimmy Cobb (drums) and Wynton Kelly (piano), who also teamed up with Miles. This musical force also played live together in 1962, 3 years earlier at Tsubo in Berkley, CA. The performance was also recorded and it is just as good as this one.
The real star is clearly Wes Montgomery as his guitar lines showcase purely electrifying jazz melodies and improvisations; the band lays out the smoky canvas for Wes to lay down his splashes of creativity, and this is creativity at its finest, and it’s all live! The great jazz guitarist Pat Metheny once said “I learned to play listening to Wes Montgomery’s Smokin’ at the Half Note”, when you consider how talented Pat Metheny is, that is an amazing compliment. Smokin’ at the Half Note is an album that has received critical acclaim in the music world, and is rated as one of the best jazz records to date; a jazz critic had this to say about the album:
“essential listening for anyone who wants to hear why Montgomery’s dynamic live shows were considered the pinnacle of his brilliant and incredibly influential guitar playing… Montgomery never played with more drive and confidence, and he’s supported every step of the way by a genuinely smokin’ Wynton Kelly Trio.
Download it! OR Buy the album!