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Radioville: Wes Montgomery, “Echoes of Indiana Avenue” (Resonance)

March 15, 2012

My review of a reissue that isn’t as big as its britches can be heard here.

For those who have no desire to hear my say the phrase “spry, speedy, biting,” here’s the text of the review:

Hi, I’m Lloyd Sachs with a two-minute album review. Of the handful of guitarists who have been game-changers in jazz, Wes Montgomery remains the best-known and best-loved. But while there are heaps of recordings documenting the innovative sounds that made him a star in the early ’60s and the slickly produced pop covers he went out with when he died in 1968, we haven’t heard much of the music he made before he revolutionized his instrument.

A new collection of recently discovered tracks recorded in his hometown of Indianapolis in ’57 and ’58 fills that need. Echoes of Indiana Avenue features Montgomery playing mostly bop standards in three different trios, one featuring his brothers Buddy and Monk and another his favorite organist, Mel Rhyne. Lots of effort has gone into making this a major historic release. The attractive CD package is stuffed with tributes and vintage photos. We’re told, without apologies to Andres Segovia, that these recordings are “the six-string equivalent of the Holy Grail.”

Well, hardcore Wes fans certainly will want to hear this album, which catches him on the cusp of being a dynamic bop and blues player with a spry, speedy, biting attack and a visionary whose signature use of octaves influenced generations of strummers. His freewheeling version of “Take the A Train” is almost worth the price of admission. Ditto the live, untitled blues improvisation that concludes the 53-minute set.

But as dazzling as Montgomery can get, and as much as these Echoes glow with nostalgia for an historic time and place, much of the music is un-ear-opening. And there’s no getting past the crummy sound, which sometimes distorts Wes’ tone. As archival discoveries go, this collection deserves about a B+. But for sending us back to classics like Full House, Boss Guitar and Smokin’ at the Half Note, it gets an A. With a review of Echoes of Indiana Avenue, I’m Lloyd Sachs. Follow me on Twitter @sachsville and subscribe to my blog jazzespress.

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