Wes Montgomery ‘Back on Indiana Avenue: The Carroll DeCamp Recordings’ 2LP-RSD/2CD (Resonance) 4/5

This is the sixth in a series of albums devoted to previously unreleased Wes Montgomery performances, initially available as a 180 gram 2 LP vinyl set, and now also on CD. The vinyl edition which I’m basing my review on was released last month to celebrate Record Store Day.

The overall package is a lovely thing to behold. Gatefold sleeve, premium vinyl pressing, and a sumptuous and informative 8-page inner booklet which includes interviews with Malcolm DeCamp and George Benson, along with extensive notes on how the recordings were discovered and the journey they took until eventually being released here. The vinyl pressing is a deluxe limited edition (3000 copies), hand-numbered 2LP set mastered by Bernie Grundman and pressed at Record Technology Inc (RTI).

The sound on these recordings has been restored from original mono tape reels. Although there doesn’t appear to be any accurate documentation of the time period these were taken from, it’s safe to assume that the recordings were made in the late ’50s, right before Montgomery would sign for Riverside Records. Whilst the quality of the sound is extremely variable, from good (for the most part), to fair to poor, the music itself is riveting, and of obvious historic importance. Included on this release are a mix of live sessions, studio recordings, and some tunes from the guitarist’s home.

Exact dates, locations and indeed, supporting musicians are not known, and the information given in the accompanying sleeve notes states that educated guesses have been made. Essentially the 2LP set is split across Sides A-D like this:
Side A is piano quartets with guitar, piano, bass and drums. Side B is an organ trio and sextet with trombone and saxophone. Side C is Nat King Cole style trios with guitar, piano and bass. Side D is also Nat King Cole trios with guitar, piano and bass. Performing with Montgomery across these sessions are pianists Earl Van Riper, Buddy Montgomery, John Bunch and Carl Perkins, organist Melvin Rhyne, bassists Monk Montgomery and Mingo Jones, drummers Paul Parker and Sonny Johnson, along with trombonist David Baker and saxophonist David Young. Although the exact list of musicians is unknown, one has to say that the music being performed is of a very high standard, especially given the fact that this was prior to Montgomery finding the fame and adulation that he went on to rightfully achieve.

The 22 selections on “Back on Indiana Avenue” include some embryonic versions of several tunes that the guitarist would later go on to record with Riverside Records. It’s fascinating to hear tracks such as “Round Midnight”, “Whisper Not”, “The End of a Love Affair”, “West Coast Blues” and “Four On Six”, to name but a few, in settings that highlight subtle differences (and some obvious differences on a few tunes), compared to the famous recordings that were to follow. Producer Zev Feldman comments: “These are very exciting recordings that Resonance is honoured to present in conjunction with the Montgomery Estate. To be able to contribute to a large part of the legacy of such an iconic artist as Wes – with even more newly discovered, great music – is very special. Unearthing not just run of the mill recordings, but some really great material from one of the guitar’s most distinctive voices is a momentous event. Stuff like this doesn’t pop up every day.” And on that final point, I would add this; although it’s true to say recordings like this don’t pop up every day, there has been a distinctly noticeable increase in such releases over the last couple of years. I’m not just talking about Wes Montgomery, in fact, the list of artists ranges from Bill Evans to Yusef Lateef and everything in between. Whilst some releases do disappoint somewhat and are perhaps for the artist’s hardcore fans only, I would say that “Back on Indiana Avenue” reaches beyond that, and although some of the sound on selected tracks is pretty poor, overall the warmth and the atmosphere makes for exciting and enjoyable listening in general, not just to Montgomery aficionados. You can almost imagine being there.

Montgomery’s guitar style is evidently well on the way to mastery on these sessions. His playing is assured and confident, his tone immediately recognisable, his trademark sound clear and defined. My personal favourites include the iconic “Four on Six” and the classic “Round Midnight” from Side A, The swinging “Jingles” and the enchanting “Sandu” from Side B, the exciting “Stompin’ at The Savoy” and the relaxed nature of “Summertime” from Side C, and the lovely ballad “Easy Living” and the infectious “The Song Is You” from Side D.

Having listened intently to “Back on Indiana Avenue” for a few weeks now, I have to say that despite the sound quality not being great throughout – even if that sounds a little harsh given the era of the recordings – this is a very enjoyable release from Resonance. I will now be avidly tracking down their other Wes Montgomery releases with great interest.

Mike Gates