“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.”
The Billy Cobham/George Duke band playing together live on on this album
is perhaps one of the finest moments in jazz-fusion history, and is also one of the greatest unknowns. It’s an unknown because only real enthusiasts would ever manage to dig it up, so it has never had much exposure amongst casual listeners. The concert and the band was a one time thing; the band recorded this one album and then went their separate ways. What you are about to witness with your ears is a tour de force which sees four of the greatest musicians in the jazz-rock world playing it cool and staying in the pocket; yes it’s jazz funk!
Download it here! OR Buy the album!
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.
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!
This was Cream’s last ever concert, and they went with a bang. Met with a roaring crowd, all sad to see them go, Cream gave it their last hurrah. Sadly, the night was filmed and recorded, which means the group were under pressure to perform, and as usual they didn’t play nearly as freely as when they were only recorded unknowingly by bootleggers. Even sadder is the fact that the official recording (which this is) is of bootleg quality and the video is a pile of steaming shit. The camera man doesn’t know what the fuck he is doing and tries to incorporate trippy ‘psychedelic’ camera effects, like zooming in and out of Clapton’s nose while he’s soloing, it’s garbage. During crossroads, which Eric Clapton sings and plays lead guitar on, it’s basically his song, the camera is pointing at Ginger Baker the whole time, even during Clapton’s magnificent solo!!! At some point he even zooms in on Clapton’s wah pedal, even though it was kicked out of circuit long after they had finished playing White Room…
Anyway, the songs were really good, and at least the video managed to get some fantastic footage of Eric showcasing his guitar skills (not mid song, but during an interview), making it look like child’s play. The above video has the interview in all it’s glory, which then kicks off into an extremely short, yet amazing (3:32) rendition of Steppin’ Out! This is seriously the shortest they’ve ever done this number, it usually stretches to the 15-20 minute mark! This was also the last song they played, as their encore at the end of the second Albert Hall show. A upside to the inferior quality of the recording is that it really captures what it must’ve been like to hear the legendary Cream play live, you can tell by the hall reverb that the band was playing LOUD! Also, each instrument cuts through the mix nicely, with special mention to Clapton: his guitar tone on this recording is unbelievable! Download it here.
This is the final US concert of the farewell tour. All the East Coast gigs were sold out so the promoter stacked one extra show. The only problem was that there was an 11.00pm noise curfew. By the time Cream hit the stage they only had 30 minutes. It was an unsatisfactory but, ironically fitting, end to this exploitative tour. Some of the audience were further disappointed by the 3 of them having a cream pie fight to celebrate the end of the band.
Despite the finality of the performance they actually turn on a reasonable “Spoonful” and an energetic “Toad”. During “Spoonful” Jack loses an amp, Eric comps and then starts playing with Ginger and Jack rejoins at reduced volume. Download it here.