The bedrock of the late Wes Montgomery’s recorded legacy features him as the lead soloist with either his working band or orchestral support. This Hamburg live studio recording from 1965 stands out for presenting his innovative thumb-based guitar technique in the informal surrounds of a workshop situation. Free from commercial pressure, the guitarist sounds unleashed.
The NDR radio station began its jazz workshops television programme in 1958 — invited guests were given a week to develop a concert programme which was then recorded and broadcast live. Montgomery’s workshop used an ad hoc ensemble of four saxophonists and rhythm drawn from America, Germany, the UK and France.
The result is a loose-limbed session with strong solos, a sprinkling of tricky themes and Montgomery on fire. The album opens with two favourites, “West Coast Blues” and “Four on Six”. The saxophones take the melody of the first, Montgomery takes lead on the second and both showcase the guitarist’s distinct tone, octave voicings and flowing lines. “Last of the Wine” comes next, written by the session’s chief arranger, the UK baritone saxophonist Ronnie Ross — it was his solo that made Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side” so memorable; his playing is equally cultured here.
Elsewhere, Ross’s “Blue Grass” combines jam session vamps with sweetly harmonised syncopations and French pianist Martial Solal orchestrates, demanding changes in tempo and mood on his “Opening 2”. American saxophonist Johnny Griffin delivers a swaggering original, “The Leopard Walks”, but his throwaway cover of Thelonious Monk’s “Blue Monk” is slightly too slow. The performance finishes with Montgomery in full flow, first on “Twisted Blues” and then on a reprise of the opening theme.
Montgomery recorded the session at the end of his only European tour after a residency at Ronnie Scott’s — the drummer from that gig, Ronnie Stephenson, joins saxophonist Scott on this session. An accompanying rehearsal DVD of Montgomery and band at ease with each other, fine-tuning arrangements and jousting amicably, confirms this as a remarkably happy set.
‘The NDR Hamburg Studio Recordings’ is released by Jazzline Classics