By: Vince Lewis
It was during my junior high school year that my mother gave me my first Wes Montgomery album. She didn’t know who Wes was, but she was able to redeem some S&H Green Stamps from the grocery store to get it for me. It had his picture on the front with a guitar, so she thought I’d be interested. The album was So Much Guitar, and being a Chet Atkins fan at the time, it seemed very strange to me musically. A couple of years later a best friend, drummer Steve Campbell, called me to join him at a local music store. He was excited for me to hear a recording that featured Wes playing “Caravan.” From that day forward, my musical direction shifted; I ran home to pull out my one album of Wes and give it another try.
Since that time I, like the majority of jazz guitarists, have been regularly and totally enthralled by the creativity and genius of Wes Montgomery. During the time since his death in 1968, there have been many reissues of his work, but this new album is actually “new” material. Producer Zev Feldman secured the tracks from guitarist Jim Greeninger, who acquired the original tapes in 1990 and transferred them to a digital format. After contacting the Montgomery estate for approval, Echoes Of Indiana Avenue was born. It is the first collection of never heard or released Montgomery material in over 25 years, and that alone makes it a must have for jazz guitar enthusiasts.
The recordings were done in three different settings in 1957 and 1958 and predated any record deal that Wes eventually signed. The musicians joining Wes are Buddy Montgomery (Piano), Monk Montgomery (Bass), Earl Van Riper (Piano), Melvin Rhyne (Piano and Organ), Mingo Jones (Bass) and Paul Parker (drums). Opening with the swinging “Diablo’s Dance,” the listener is treated to the classic ’50s sound quality that made fans of mainstream jazz tingle with excitement. Wes has the early natural and earthy tone here that later developed into the rich, full sound that only more modern recording techniques could bring.
His single note lines and wonderful energy in his comping and octave playing were already at a level way beyond his years during the recording of Echoes Of Indiana Avenue. The supporting players are his brothers and friends, and their interaction is a treat to hear. “Round Midnight” has Rhyne on organ in the trio combination that would be repeated on later Riverside recordings. Wes gives a typically stellar performance, playing wonderful intervallic phrases perfectly through the chord changes. “Straight No Chaser” is an up-tempo blues classic that gives the players a chance to truly show their prowess as soloists over the most basic of chord progressions. It is evident that each musician is also having a lot of fun just hearing their phrasing and enthusiasm. The other selections present are “Nica’s Dream,” “Darn That Dream,” “Take The A Train,” “Misty,” “Body And soul” and “After Hours Blues.” Five of the tracks were recorded live, possibly at the Hub Bub in Indianapolis.
Coming with a wonderful booklet filled with remembrances of Wes from brothers Buddy and Monk, along with Pat Martino and David Baker, this CD is a terrific investment. The music is exciting and fresh and the digital conversion does not lessen the original sound quality at all.
Wes Montgomery had one of the shortest recording careers of any major artist. His untimely and youthful passing left so many musicians with a terrible sense of loss, but his musical and personal legacy has touched so many musicians and non players in a positive and encouraging way. To have this music available for us to enjoy is a miracle of sorts, and everyone involved in its restoration and release needs to be thanked and supported. This is truly a musical experience that needs to be a part of every serious jazz collection.