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Even though Wes Montgomery passed away fifty-five years ago, 2023 has been a banner year for one of the most influential Jazz Guitarist to ever hit the scene. In early 2023, Producer Kevin Finch, Jukebox Productions and the son of Wes, Robert Montgomery, premiered the wonderful documentary Wes Bound: The Genius of Wes Montgomery on PBS affiliate WTIU. Following the broadcast was the Wes Montgomery at 100: A 100th Birthday Tribute Concert featuring the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music Jazz Ensemble alongside the great Dave Stryker fronting the band in a program of Wes originals and tunes associated with Wes. It was a great way to kick off the centennial of Wes’ birth (1923)! And now, thanks to Resonance Records owner and producer Zev Feldman, along with Associate Producer Robert Montgomery, we get to end 2023 as great as it began with the release of a 2 CD set titled Maximum Swing: The Unissued 1965 Half Note Recordings featuring Wes Montgomery once again with the Wynton Kelly Trio.
Maximum Swing: The Unissued 1965 Half Note Recordings is not to be confused with the much praised Smokin’ at the Half Note as this is an entirely different beast all-together! While the aforementioned Smokin’ at the Half Note was indeed recorded in 1965, only two of the five tunes were recorded at the venue with the remaining tunes recorded live at Rudy Van Gelder’s studio a few months after the club recordings. On Maximum Swing however, all the performances were recorded live at the Half Note during sets on September 24th, 1965 and November 5th, 12th and 19th of that same year. Thanks to two primary sources: Alan Grant’s Portraits in Jazz series on WABC-FM which would broadcast shows from inside the venue – allowing for some cool and causal banter between Alan and Wes – and “…some previously unreleased live material culled from the private collection of Yoshio Tokui from the Wes Montgomery fan club of Japan”*, we can travel back in time so to speak and experience this explosive group as never before. Very cool indeed!
Now if you’re familiar with Smokin’ at the Half Note, you may feel like “yeah, yeah, I heard it all before!” Well you may be more than pleasantly surprised. Wes and the trio truly “smoke” during these performances as they play extended chorus after chorus of the finest Jazz blowing only the best can offer. Don’t get me wrong, it’s the Wes that we all know and love. The hip lines are all there, the octaves, the block-chord soloing and the melodic beauty that has transfixed so many great guitarists like Pat Metheny, George Benson, Emily Remler, Terrence Brewer, Dave Stryker and countless others of that ilk. What gives this 2 CD set a step up is how much more this top shelf unit puts out, especially during the November 19th set where the shortest tune**, “Cherokee”, is a mere 10 minutes and 39 seconds of pure improvisational splendor compared to “The Song Is You” which gives the cats 16 minutes and 18 seconds to become fully immersed in the music allowing them to shine just a tad hotter and brighter resulting in “Maximum Swing!” 🙂 Suffice it to say…deep non-verbal communication and sympatico ruled the roost that night!
Of course, Wes and the boys deliver on all the tunes regardless of how long or how short they play. “Impressions”, “Laura”, “Cariba”, “Four on Six”, “No Blues”, “All The Things You Are” and “Birks’ Works” – amongst other tunes – get the same treatment as only Wes and Wynton’s Trio could offer. In today’s parlance this would be called a “Super Group” but back then – and I am purely speculating here – it “feels” like it was just the “fellas” getting together to make and play great music. And that they do! If you’re a fan of both Wes and the Wynton Kelly Trio, you’ll not be disappointed.
A slight caveat though…the sonic quality of the sets may be less than one expects these days. However, when it comes to the recorded performances, we’re not talking about today, we’re talking about specific moments in time that had no intention of being used over half a century later for purposes other than a radio broadcast or for someone’s personal and private listening in the case of Yoshio Tokui-san. Engineer Matthew Lutthans and producer Richard Seidel did more than the best they could given what they had to work with and I for one applaud the work they did do. It’s because of their devotion and love for this music that we get to hear Wes and the Wynton Kelly Trio in all their glory through whatever entertainment device one uses these days. Not an easy task at all but one that they knocked out of the park.
As I begin to wrap up this review, I need to mention the great 51 page booklet that comes with the 2 CD set. There are great interviews with Ron Carter – who subbed for Paul Chambers on the November 5th date – along with reminisces by Bill Frisell, Mike Stern, Marcus Miller (Wynton Kelly’s cousin once removed), Yoshio Tokui, Herbie Hancock, Engineer Matthew Lutthans, Producer Zev Feldman and a great article – including a track by track breakdown – by noted writer, music author and historian Bill Milkowski which is a truly great read that really gives context to this most historic musical document. The CD without the booklet would have been great, but the addition of the booklet makes it so much sweeter. Thank you Zev!
This 180-gram vinyl version of this set hits the stores this coming Friday, the 24th of November in line with Record Store Day and Black Friday with the CD and it’s digital counterpart being made available December 1, 2023.
I was fortunate to have received a CD copy so I cannot speak on the vinyl or digital versions but I am sure they will be just as good!
So, if you’re a fan of Wes Montgomery and think you’ve heard it all – even the bootlegged stuff – you just may be surprised with Maximum Swing. After all…theYoshio Tokui tapes are worth the price of admission alone as “This is the first time the public will be able to hear these free spirited performances” – Yoshio Tokui. SOLD!! 🙂
Thanks to Zev and all involved for their hard work and commitment in getting these performances out there. In the words of Alan Grant…”stay beautiful!” 🙂
*Bill Milkowski liner notes
** There is a shorter tune “Oh, You Crazy Moon” which is clocked in at 4 minutes and 27 seconds but is the last tune of that set, at least on this production.
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