Very Best of Wes Montgomery
Riverside /Concord Music Group
I suspect you can never have too much cool jazz, and Riverside is here to help. They've just popped out a series of "Very Best" collections from some of the greats, and today we'll look at Wes Montgomery. Montgomery had a tragically short career; he only played and recorded for a bit over a decade, but influenced most of the subsequent jazz guitar heroes like Pat Metheny, George Benson, and even Jimi Hendrix. Unlike so many other early departures, he avoided drugs and fast living only to exit via heart attack, leaving behind over two dozen albums. Thus, Riverside's problem is one of excess, and not lack of material.
There's quite a spread in jazz, and Montgomery is one of the more melodic of the composers. He's certainly no hook and chorus guy, but "West Coast Blues" and "Four on Six" lope along with Montgomery's six-string setting a counterpoint melody to syncopated drum and brushes. Occasionally a piano pops in to say "hello," but the point man here is Montgomery. The standard "Besame Mucho" is almost unrecognizable; it's not that he's lost the melody, but he's just fragmented it, with bits and pieces catching at your left ear and making you right ear whisper "wait... no... that's um... play it again please? I missed it!"
By the end of the album, we're into a more structured composition. "Cariba" almost makes you dance, and that's not something Montgomery or his contemporaries are known for. They'll make you think, but mass appeal dancing to jazz lay in the future with choreographers like Bob Fosse. There's a live audience patiently sitting and listening to Montgomery jam, and unlike rock audiences, these folks are quiet and contained, only bursting in to golf-course-quiet applause after a particularly innovative riff. Jazz is a study, repaying repeated listening and discussion with deeper insight and growing appreciation. You just need to collect the whole set.