Wes Montgomery

Down Here on the Ground

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Wes Montgomery acceded to the whims of producer Creed Taylor for this, one of the very first CTI productions that would, over the next decade, popularize jazz with string backdrops or rhythm & blues beats. Much to either the delight or chagrin of urban or traditional jazz fans, the music changed, and Montgomery was in the middle, though his delightful playing was essentially unchanged. On the plus side, the legendary guitarist was allowed to collaborate with great musicians like bassist Ron Carter, pianist Herbie Hancock, flutist Hubert Laws, and percussionist Ray Barretto. While the small orchestral trappings never dominate this session, the seeds for a more grandiose style of music had been planted with the release of this date in 1968. The arrangements of Don Sebesky are for the most part pretty, unobtrusive, and pleasant but lack groove and soul in the main. "Wind Song" is exactly as its title suggests, a light funk loaded up with chords and woodwinds. The melody of "Georgia on My Mind" is barely stated although the strings are subtle; "I Say a Little Prayer" is a sappy tune made into Muzak; oboe and cello bring "When I Look Into Your Eyes" into an ultimately maudlin arena; and Lalo Schifrin's theme from "The Fox" has the same instrumental complement, more film noir, and parallel to Rahsaan Roland Kirk's "Theme to the Eulipions" if you compare them side by side. The best material is the light funk of Montgomery's original "Up & at It" in a small ensemble, nice enough, and the roots of so-called "smooth" jazz. The bright samba "Know It All" best showcases the guitarist and Hancock's luminous piano, reflecting the classic "No More Blues," while "Goin' on to Detroit" is a typical Montgomery-styled, cool road song featuring Laws. In may real and important ways, this is the beginning of the end for Montgomery as a jazz artist, and the inception of bachelor pad lounge/mood music that only lasted for a brief time. This recording, with no extra material, alternate takes, or bonus tracks, cannot compare to Charlie Parker with strings. It does fall in that category of recordings where the musicians chose to produce, rather than create their personal brand of jazz, and is at the very least an historical footnote.

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