Wes Montgomery

In the Beginning: Early Recordings from 1949-1958

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Rare Wes Montgomery material is hard to come by. Not counting Willow Weep for Me, the posthumous LP Verve issued in 1968 not long after the guitarist's passing, there was Resonance's 2012 set Echoes of Indiana Avenue, which contained largely live performances from 1957 and 1958. In the Beginning, released three years after Echoes, draws from a similar well of unreleased recordings, offering a heavy dose of live material along with five sides produced by Quincy Jones at Columbia Studios in 1955, plus three tracks a session at Spire Records in Fresno, California in 1949. Sequenced in rough reverse chronological order -- two live performances from November 1958 open the second disc, but the first is entirely devoted to recordings made at the Turf Club in Indianapolis in 1956, when Wes was supported by his brother Buddy on piano, Monk Montgomery on bass, Alonzo "Pookie" Johnson on tenor sax, and drummer Sonny Johnson -- the end result has Montgomery turning into a slightly straighter player as the collection rolls on, but that by no means means he sounds stiff. The 1949 cuts that wrap this up veer closer to big band than to bop, and there's a slight touch of politeness to the Jones-produced cuts. That said, it's possible to hear traces of Montgomery's fluidity here, but it's the live cuts from 1956 and 1958 that truly command attention. Here, there's a palpable hunger and playfulness to the performances that give the hard bop a kinetic kick, which means this isn't merely a worthy release from a historic standpoint, it's flat-out fun to boot.

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