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Smokin at the Half Note
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on May 31, 2004
Wes arrived late (he was 35) and checked out early (fewer than 10 years in the spotlight). Still, no guitarist has had a greater impact in the history of this music. By the time he had moved on from Riverside to this session for Verve, he had little to prove to musicians and was beginning to accept more accessible, popular assignments that would broaden his appeal to the general public. "Smokin'," despite lacking any tunes as challenging as "Airegin" ("The Incredible Guitar Artistry of"), can stand alongside his Riverside work as an example of creative, inspired playing. And the presence of Wyn Kelley along with Chambers and Cobb definitely raises the swing factor a notch.
If you're new to Wes, don't expect to be blown away by just one recording. Guitar is such a popular if not universal instrument that to be designated "number one" often seems to over-inflate listeners' expectations, inviting subsequent doubt and dissent. What sets Wes apart from the field is not pyrotechnical legerdemain or bold innovation but every "little" thing that he does so well so effortlessly so much of the time. The sound he gets out of the instrument is of itself a marvel. It has a deep and meaty, utterly natural, resonance, almost as if the tone is doubling itself, reminding me less of other guitarists than of Bird and Clifford. Additionally, there's never a microsecond of doubt in his playing or solo constructions. Nothing is tentative--in terms of notes, phrases, or choruses. It's all so completely lyrical and logical that the listener's biggest challenge can be not to take it for granted.
His solo on Sam Jones' "Unit 7" might serve as a touchstone to all of his playing. He starts with inventive single note melodic ideas, then moves to octaves without the faintest suggestion of slowing down to accommodate the extra note, then finally kicks it into high gear with a fully chorded "out" chorus that feels as forceful as a shout chorus by the whole Count Basie Band.
I never caught Wes live, but I've heard that visually he was the mirror image of his music--efficient, composed, resourceful, economical--not the least hint of wasted motion, just like Bird and Tatum. Genius requires a level of concentration that the rest of us probably have little to no experience with. Wes Montgomery is one of those artists who can take the listener beyond the music, producing vibrations that are not merely satisfying at a sensual or emotional-intellectual level: his music is capable of leading to discoveries about the creative process itself.
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on January 5, 2003
Wes Montgomery had already recorded numerous masterpieces on the Riverside label, but still hadn't been caught in a live setting. Verve Records teamed him with the Wynton Kelly Trio and promptly sent them out on the road and recorded them. This CD, along with another called "Full House" (includes saxman Johnny Griffin) captured lightening in a bottle. "No Blues" is one of the finest swinging songs Wes has ever recorded. He is obviously at home with Wynton, and vice-versa. Jimmy Cobb and Paul Chambers are flawless behind them. "Impressions" is so good that Wes breaks out into spontaneous laughter; and "Unit Seven" is so perfect, and so precise, that until the clapping at the end one might think it a studio recording. "Four on Six" is a classic, yet Wes suprises the listener by soloing instead of chording in the first turnaround. I could go on and on... Bottom line is: This is one of the best jazz recordings on record (or CD), "Live" or otherwise. Trust me - You'll love it.
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on December 2, 2002
Put the greatest jazz guitarist ever with Miles Davis' rhythm section and you get this. Couple Wes' amazing improvisation and ceaseless ideas with Wynton Kelly's classy embellishments, Paul Chambers' continuous drive, and Jimmy Cobb's tireless swing and you get something very close to utopia. Everything that made Wes great is in this recording.
As far as the reviewer who said Wes was half the guitarist that Joe Pass was, he's right in a sense. Wes' thumb style limited his speed, so he couldn't play as fast as some other guitarists. However, Wes had something that Joe Pass, Johnny Smith, and Tal Farlow lacked: phrasing. Listening to Joe pick every note is enough to make a horn player faint. After listening to most jazz guitarists, I get the urge to say, "That's nice, but what's your point?" They can play fast, complex lines, but none of it seems to have any purpose other than showing off. Wes was a master at phrasing and the use of space. He skillfully used single lines, octaves, and chords to get his point across. He carefully constructed coherent solos that always seemed to say something. Listen to No Blues on this album. Though Wes plays a long solo, each chorus is more exciting than the one before it. When I listen to Joe Pass, each chorus does not build on the one before it, and it all gets boring very quickly.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on October 23, 2003
Of course this album is a classic - and rightly so. But for the complete recordings from these historic sessions, check out "The Verve Jazz Sides". Though the double-album includes samples from Wes' other Verve albums (which you may already have or not desire), it's worth the investment (and 5 stars) to hear 'Smokin' in its entirety.
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on September 21, 2002
As everyone is entitled to their opinion I will give mine on Wes Montgomery and especially this album. Way overrated? Wes swung like no other guitar player and his lines are not only beneficial to the guitar player but to horn players as well and all jazz musicians. Why? His solos follow a "plot" type form that build and build and are not just pretty sounds. He also was a pioneer of the octave technique (while Charlie Christian and others did use octaves, no one was as skillful and smart with them as Wes). I will not describe his chordal solos, they need only to be listened to get what he was doing with modern/bebop harmony. To all readers out there- ask any guitar player or jazz musician (try Pat Metheny?? about Wes and they will tell you that Wes is "it". But really just go and listen to one of the best jazz album a few times and you will be able to sing every note of these melodic and swinging solos. Thanks.
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on September 21, 2002
As everyone is entitled to their opinion I will give mine on Wes Montgomery and especially this album. Way overrated? Wes swung like no other guitar player and his lines are not only beneficial to the guitar player but to horn players as well and all jazz musicians. Why? His solos follow a "plot" type form that build and build and are not just pretty sounds. He also was a pioneer of the octave technique (while Charlie Christian and others did use octaves, no one was as skillful and smart with them as Wes). I will not describe his chordal solos, they need only to be listened to get what he was doing with modern/bebop harmony. To all readers out there- ask any guitar player or jazz musician (try Pat Metheny?? about Wes and they will tell you that Wes is "it". But really just go and listen to one of the best jazz album a few times and you will be able to sing every note of these melodic and swinging solos. Thanks.
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on April 8, 2004
I could sing most of the solos in their entirety off of this album just because I've listened to it so many times. The first cut "No Blues" just tells you what Wes is all about. Every other track is great as well and of course you get to hear "Four on Six" which is any Wes fan's favorite. There arn't any disappointing tracks on this album.
AND HIS TONE! I have never heard Wes' tone sound so big and full. I didn't think that his tone could get any fatter... but it has, and it is gooood. The whole album is choc full o' phat octaves, as are all of his albums. And let me also tell you that this is some straight ahead jazz, before Wes went Pop.
I have no doubt that this is one of the best Wes Montgomery albums available. Most people I know think it is, and it's worth the $10.99 (which is a good deal for any CD these days) You owe it to yourself to get "Smokin' at the Half Note.
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on February 1, 2003
This is a must have not only for Wes's fans but also for people who like hard grooving rhythms and inspireful melodic approaches. Wes is on top form here ,so is the band around him and the atmosphere rises to the top.
Now on the matter of the "battle" between the guitarists, the point is that each guitarist has his own unique recognisable voice and that's what's made them great musicians. I don't agree with the reviewer who said that Joe Pass' solos can bore you easily and certainly the purpose of all these guitarists (Pass,Farlow etc) was not to show off their exceptional techniques. The point in improvising is not to play as fast as you can, but to try to instantaneously express your auditory imagery. And in this area Wes was one of the best around, that's for sure.
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on June 6, 2003
One of the most memorable events of my youth was in 1967, the year before Wes Montgomery died. I and another guitar player friend sat just feet from Wes in Washington DC's Bohemian Caverns club as he tore into number after number, in total command of his fabulous L-5 Gibson guitar. I even recall the first tune of the night: "I Could Write a Book." If I could revisit any one time and place in my life, that would be it. The Half Note album is another session on that order. Oh, how I wish I could have been there..and at Tsubo in San Francisco to hear him with Wynton Kelly and sax man Johnnie Griffin. Moments like those are meant to live forever. Thank God someone recorded it. Get this CD and dream of being in the audience. These moments in history only happen once.
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on June 2, 2003
This album is most certainly one of the best ever recorded, in my opinion. Wes Montgomery is an incredible guitarist, and his performance on this album is exemplary. I would also like to point out that this album contains some of Wynton Kelly's best playing. His lines and bouncy time feel, and his empathy with Paul Chambers and Jimmy Cobb (which I consider to be probably the best rhythm section in history) are all top shelf and anyone who is interested in hard-swinging music and in Wynton Kelly should acquire this album post haste.
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