Wes Montgomery ‘In Paris: The Definitive ORTF Recording’ 2CD (Resonance) 5/5

Re-issue connoisseurs Resonance embark upon another major re-issue and this time it is a recording that has been the subject of numerous pirate recordings with a variety of covers and labels. Wes Montgomery brought over a crack set of musicians for a European tour in 1965 and this double CD covers an entire evening at the prestigious Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris on March 27 of that year. Historically, the recording is significant in that it precedes what is generally considered to be the greatest live album by Wes for Verve, ‘Smokin’ at the Half Note’, if not his finest album ever for this writer at least. The line-up is a little out of the ordinary too with pianist Harold Mabern (who recorded with Donald Byrd, Booker Little and Lee Morgan), bassist Arthur Harper (who performed with J.J. Johnson and Bud Powell) and drummer Jimmy Lovelace (who recorded with Roland Kirk and Junior Mance). As a final cherry on the cake, guest saxophonist Johnny Griffin, who famously recorded with Montgomery on the ‘Full House’ album for Riverside, graces a few of the numbers with his presence. While the original tape recording was never intended for release, the wonders of technology have significantly improved the sound quality, even though the piano is not always as clearly defined as one might expect. Nonetheless, the high resolution re-master does provide a crisper sound to the drums and Montgomery’s immediately distinctive guitar licks sound as wonderful as ever.

What of the music? The pieces are heard in their elongated versions and this means plenty of space in which to hear the leader and if any evidence were needed to put to bed doubts about his improvising ability and tendency towards more commercial options, this is it. An immediate winner is ‘Four On Six’, with lovely interplay between pianist and guitarist. On ‘Impressions’, there is an unbridled urgency to the performances and the trio manages to keep up with Wes’ extended soloing which makes for a thrilling listening experience, and this bares comparison with Grant Green’s outstanding interpretation of ‘My Favourite Things’. Balladry was always a Montgomery strong point and ‘Here’s That Rainy Day’, brings out the gentle side to the band, though in this reading the ballad is performed at a slightly faster tempo than one might expect. Indeed, it would be more accurate to think of this almost as a relaxed mid-tempo groove. Rhythmically appealing, a twelve and a half minute take on ‘Jingles’, features a delightful trading of licks between Mabern and Montgomery, and this is an ideal vehicle for the guitarist to show off his virtuosity. Johnny Griffin offers a more restrained partnership overall, but comes into his own on tenor on ‘Full House’, which was the title track to a memorable live recording for Riverside at Berkeley, California, and likewise on an entertaining medley of, ‘Blue ‘N Boogie / West Coast Blues’.

Rounding off a splendid re-issue and now the first place to acquire the definitive version of this concert, the voluminous thirty page plus inner sleeve cover features a lengthy interview with Harold Mabern. and is beautifully illustrated by some sumptuous black and white photos of the band in Paris by Jean-Pierre Lenoir, plus others including the renowned British jazz writer and no mean photographer, Val Wilmer. The music of Wes Montgomery has not dated at all. It is modern sounding and accessible, yet still has great depth to it, and is respectful of the jazz tradition, a logical step on from both Charlie Christian and Django Reinhardt.

Tim Stenhouse