Wynton Kelly Trio with Wes Montgomery ‘Smokin’ in Seattle’ 180g LP/CD (Resonance) 4/5

The original ‘Smokin’ at the Half Note’ recording on Verve remains a definitive example of Wes Montgomery’s career and one of the all-time great live recordings, as well as of the modern jazz guitar. These previously unreleased live recordings date from the very last year in Wes’ life in 1968, between 14 and 21 April, and provide all the ammunition required to counter the argument by some that Montgomery had by this time ‘sold out’ his craft for commercial success. They were recorded at the Penthouse club in Seattle, Washington state, and feature musicians with whom the guitarist regularly recorded. Pianist Wynton Kelly and drummer Jimmy Cobb formed two-thirds of the classic 1950s rhythm section of Miles Davis and this proved to be the most convivial of settings for Wes Montgomery. Moreover, they were also to be found with Wes Montgomery on a seminal live date, ‘Full house’, that featured the ‘little giant’ himself in Johnny Griffin. Bassist Ron McClure was a vastly experienced musician who slotted into the band with the greatest of ease.
As ever with his albums as a leader, Wes selected some of his favourite tunes of the day and these included the ace songwriting pairing of Antonio Carlos Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes with, ‘O morro n o tem vaz’ being the prettiest of melodies and a piece that the guitarists caresses with the greatest delicacy. What a pity, then, that he did not devote an entire album to the Brazilian repertoire because he was ideally suited to this idiom. In a more straight-ahead jazz vein, Sonny Rollins’, ‘Oleo’, demonstrated that Montgomery could still play fast licks as well as anyone and he stretches out. Some of his own compositions are showcased for good measure and the evergreen, ‘Jingles’, will bring a smile to many a face.

An eight-page A3 size helps the reader to critically assess the recording date and place it in its true historical context. The extended interview with Jimmy Cobb sheds fascinating light on the genesis of the recording date and Kenny Barron offers additional expert coverage of the specificity of Wynton Kelly’s distinctive and highly influential pianistic style. Another winner of a release from Resonance.

Tim Stenhouse