Nelson Riveros: The Latin Side of Wes Montgomery – Jazz Guitar Life CD Review

Nelson Riveros latest CD – The Latin Side of Wes Montgomery – not only pays tribute to the late, great Jazz Guitarist but also to the music of Riveros’ cultural roots in a celebration that is both personal and clearly meaningful on many levels.

For starters, Riveros had the monumental task of thanking Wes in a way that not only honoured the man’s influence, but also demonstrated that influence by example. If that wasn’t enough, Riveros had to also expand and arrange the music in a way that stayed true to the culturally diverse rhythms that Latin American music affords. Thankfully, Riveros hits both those challenges out of the park as he offers up seven admired tunes from Wes’ catalogue along with two of his own written exclusively for this album.

Wes’ “Road Song” kicks off the CD and immediately – like the original – sets a Latin groove that gets your head nodding and your foot tapping. The intro arrangement is a hip spoiler of what’s to come and as the tune settles down, the familiar melody fits nicely in the pocket as Riveros follows Wes’ example of using octaves to enhance the melody line, with a slight harmonic twist. Hector Martignon takes over the reins with the first solo and it is clear from the start why he was hired to play on this project. Simply put, he’s really, really good! His feel and melodic ideas convey a thorough understanding of both the language of Jazz and the minutia of Latin/Cuban rhythms, adding profound inspiration to Riveros’ creative purpose for this unique album.

Riveros follows Martignon’s solo with one of his own and it is here where we first hear the influence that Wes has had on his development as a Jazz Guitarist. Smooth lines, melodicism, quick runs and octave soloing combine to pay deep respect to a man he never met but who had a huge impact on his creative being. It is this impact that permeates through the whole CD as Riveros displays an enthusiastic musical intellect on what it takes to improvise a memorable solo ala Wes without being a poor imitation. “West Coast Blues” is a great example of this as Riveros skirts his way through the changes in a harmonically concise way while utilizing Wes’s trademark octaves through certain passages. Martignon’s solo continues the improvisational festivities before heading back to the top of the form where drummer Mark Walker gets to shine a bit on the outro in a traditional call and response that brings the tune to a mighty close.

Four on Six”, as you may imagine, is one of the many highlights on this CD and a classic staple for any Wes loving fan. Riveros takes a unique approach to this one and, as described in the liner notes*:

Four On Six is one of Riveros’ favorite songs of all time. He took the original bass line and turned it into a syncopated Tumbao. In fact, he first heard the Tumbao in his head before arranging the piece. Riveros studied Montgomery’s different recordings of this piece, noticing when the legendary artists played the chord hits and when he didn’t…

Kabir Sehgal

It is this attention to detail that makes this CD such a delight to listen to, especially if you are a fan of Wes Montgomery’s music. It’s almost like hearing the music again for the first time 🙂

Jingles”, “Tear It Down” and “Wes’ Tune” all receive the same considerate treatment from the group as they combine first-rate musicianship alongside a comprehensive fluency of the rhythmic varieties of Latin music. Bassist Andy McKee and percussionist Jonathan Gomez, along with the aforementioned Riveros, Martignon and Walker, know their way around their instruments and once again I point you towards the liner notes to grasp the nuances that make up the musical complexities involved.

Of the three tunes I haven’t mentioned yet, two are Riveros’ compositions titled “Nelson’s Groove” and “Facing Wes”, which share a similar spirit to Wes’ own tunes and groove just as deep! Riveros playing is snappy and brisk as he navigates through the changes owning every note and I wouldn’t be surprised if he is picking only with his thumb. McKee gets some solo space on both original compositions and his tone and execution on upright bass are first class.  Walker also gets some nice “licks” in on “Facing Wes” which showcases his ability to be both a team-player and a damn-good soloist when needed!

The last tune is a beautiful solo interpretation of Wes’s “Leila”, off his Far Wes album. Riveros’ rendition is taken at a slower tempo and slightly re-harmonized for full solo-guitar effect. A beautiful piece made that much more beautiful with Riveros’ sensitive treatment. I think Wes would have approved indeed.

Syncopated rhythmic punctuation together with expressive pauses, marvellous musicianship and more than a healthy dose of artistic fervour result in an impressive interpretation of Wes’ tunes that I believe fits in with what Nelson Riveros originally had in mind when he began to brainstorm this special project. Well done all!

If you’re a fan of Wes Montgomery – and/or Nelson Riveros – and want to hear Wes’ tunes imagined in a sizzling and ardent manner with the help of great musicians diverse in both the Jazz and Latin idiom, then check out Nelson Riveros’ The Latin Side of Wes Montgomery, I think you’ll be glad you did! Quia nunc vale 🙂

*Written by multi-Grammy and Latin Grammy award winner Kabir Sehgal as somewhat of a treatise on the variety of Latin American rhythms used throughout this CD. Quite an education indeed!

To purchase Riveros’ The Latin Side of Wes Montgomery, click here.

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