Guitarist Wes Montgomery had an unusually long incubation as a supporting player, and a too-short time as a leader. Throughout the 1940s and ‘50s he toured and played sessions for others, finally breaking through as a leader with a series of late-50s and early-60s releases for Riverside. Montgomery’s run with the label, sampled here, continued throughRiverside’s demise in the wake of its co-founder’s death in 1963, at which point he moved to Verve, and subsequently to A&M. It was at the last stop where the guitarist’s fame grew into the mainstream via his explorations of hit pop melodies, but this earlier work, with his sumptuous tone set against piano- and organ-trios and -quartets remains his definitive musical signature.
The eleven tracks cover the years 1959 through 1963, stretching from The Wes Montgomery Trio through Boss Guitar, omitting selections from a number of excellent albums along the way. Montgomery is heard playing with a number of rhythm sections that include his brothers Buddy and Monk, Ron Carter, Philly Joe Jones, Percy Heath, Paul Chambers, along with Mel Rhyne (Hammond), Hank Jones and Tommy Flanagan (piano) and Milt Jackson (vibes). The only reed in this collection is Johnny Griffin’s tenor on a live take of the Montgomery original “Cariba.” The set features several jazz favorites, including a meditative reading of Thelonious Monk’s “’Round Midnight” and a swinging version of west coast pianist Carl Perkins’ “Groove Yard.”
Montgomery’s guitar is brilliantly engaging throughout, whether vamping behind other soloists or playing one of his wonderfully fluid leads. He picks percussively against the stabs of Rhyne’s B-3 and Jimmy Cobb’s ride cymbal on an upbeat take of “Besame Mucho” and shares the spotlight with Milt Jackson and Wynton Kelly on “Delilah.” The eleven tracks, clocking in at just over an hour, are a fair sample of Montgomery’s run on Riverside, but for those without the rest of the catalog, this will merely whet your appetite for the individual albums. For those willing to go all-in, check out The Complete Riverside Recordings. This is a good place to start; just don’t expect it to be your last Wes Montgomery purchase. [©2012 hyperbolium dot com]