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Wes Montgomery: So Much Guitar!

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Wes Montgomery
Wes Montgomery recorded So Much Guitar! for Riverside Records on August 4, 1961. For years, the album has been largely overlooked as a masterpiece—eclipsed by The Incredible jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery, which was recorded a year and a half earlier in January 1960. What makes So Much Guitar! special is its taut quality and Montgomery's daredevil risk-taking with the 24-year-old bassist Ron Carter.

For reasons that likely have to do more with trial-and-error test marketing with a new artist and brand-building, producer Orrin Keepnews somehow didn't see the immediate virtues of placing Montgomery in a quartet. Instead, Montgomery between 1960 and 1961 appeared on albums with Harold Land, Cannonball Adderley, James Clay and Montgomery's brothers. Not until So Much Guitar! did Orrin repeat the earlier magic.

Joining Montgomery on So Much Guitar! was Hank Jones (p), Ron Carter (b) and Lex Humphries (d), with Ray Barretto (cga) on several tracks. What's particularly special about the recording is how Montgomery and Ron Carter feed off each other. [Photo of Wes Montgomery above by Lee Tanner]

Ron is the session's sole survivor, and I interviewed him at length for my liner notes to the newly remastered and re-issued CD. Here's a section from my notes:

“At the start of the August session, Carter recalls being taken aback. 'Everyone had heard about Wes's reputation, and when I walked into the studio and saw Hank, Lex and Ray, I was surprised I had been called instead of Sam [Jones], Paul [Chambers], Milt [Hinton], George [Duvivier] or Doug [Watkins]. We were in New York, and Orrin [pictured above] had access to any bassist he wanted.'

“But Carter's awe soon turned to shock. 'After I set up near Wes, I realized there was no sheet music. Wes sensed my concern and turned—with that big Gibson on his lap—and said: 'It's just music—it's not hard, man. Me and you got it.' That's when I knew it was a trap. Wes meant that he and I were going to feed off each other while the rest of the guys backed us up."

Carter caught on fast. “On this date, I had to think of my bass in a higher range—so Wes could hear me. Normally, the bass is in charge of the band's time. But here, I had two roles—to keep time and to influence what Wes played. It wasn't about me and Wes going at it but what I could play to help this guy get someplace."

Among the most startling tracks on the album is Montgomery's swinging interpretation of Repetition. If you didn't know the name of the song in advance, odds are you never would have guessed that Montgomery was playing the chord changes to the Neil Hefti song. That's how powerful Montgomery was as an impromptu melodist, crafting an entirely new song based on the chord changes to an existing one.

With the reissue of So Much Guitar! in remastered form, we now can compare it studiously to Incredible Jazz Guitar. In just a year and a half, Montgomery's confidence grew along with his vision and imagination.

JazzWax tracks: You'll find the newly issued So Much Guitar! (Riverside) here. In addition, Concord has reissued Bill Evans' How My Heart Sings!, Cannonball Adderley's Things Are Getting Better, Thelonious Monk and Gerry Mulligan's Mulligan Meets Monk and Chet Baker Plays the Best of Lerner and Lowe.

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
Copyright © 2016. All rights reserved.

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