Remember: A Tribute to Wes Montgomery (Blue Note)
Released April 4, 2006
Jazzweek No1 Year End Jazz Chart 2006
Here are a couple of stories. One is amazing and funny. The other is just amazing.
Wes Montgomery, the great jazz guitarist, didn’t know how to read music. That’s right, this is the man whose fingers blistered their way around such tunes as “Twisted Blues” and “Four On Six” and who released such monumental records as Boss Guitar, Full House, and Smokin’ At The Half Note. (I know … it’s a Wynton Kelly record, but nobody really thinks of it that way.)
All that great music coming out of no formal training. Bill Frisell put it perfectly when he said, “He didn’t read music. It was like this homemade thing he did all himself.”
Of course, my favorite Montgomery anecdote comes out of his famous distaste for practicing. Wes put it this way: “I never practice my guitar. From time to time I just open the case and throw in a piece of raw meat.”
Pat Martino, the great jazz guitarist, does know how to read music. He also knows his way around that fretboard. In fact, Martino had to relearn the guitar after undergoing surgery for a brain aneurysm in 1980. Using his own records as source material, Martino eventually found his old form. Every time I put on one of his more recent records, I continue to be amazed, both by the music and the improbable back story that is a part of it.
Fast forward to 2006, as Martino decides to revisit the passions of his youth by recording Remember: A Tribute To Wes Montgomery. Focusing on Montgomery’s Riverside recordings, Martino’s fine band (Scott Allan Robinson/drums, Danny Sadownick/percussion, David Kikoski/piano and bassist John Patitucci) puts in some inspired performances on such classics as “Full House,” “Twisted Blues” (during which Patitucci swings mightily and leader Martino shows why he’s so deserving of the accolades tossed his way), “West Coast Blues” and, my personal favorite, “Four On Six.”
Not only are the band members sympathetic to the material, they’re very much in tune with each other. Face it, these tunes demand swing and groove. Any hint of “mechanics” and the mood would be ruined. Just check out the slippery descending unison lines that open “SKJ.” Nice.
While there are undoubtedly many reasons for the creation of this record, Martino points out that looking back can be more than just a nostalgia turn: “We get caught up in life and can’t get back to that place when you were a child and had dreams for yourself.”
1. Four on Six (Wes Montgomery) 6:02
2. Groove Yard (Carl Perkins) 5:54
3. Full House (Wes Montgomery) 7:02
4. Heart Strings (Milt Jackson) 6:52
5. Twisted Blues (Wes Montgomery) 5:15
6. Road Song (Wes Montgomery) 7:08
7. West Coast Blues (Wes Montgomery) 7:19
8. S.K.J. (Milt Jackson) 7:10
9. If I Should Lose You 7:45
10. Unit Seven 5:41
Pat Martino: guitar
David Kikoski: piano
John Patitucci: bass
Scott Allan Robinson: drums
Danny Sadownick: percussion
Recorded August 9 – 10, 2005 at Avatar Studios, N.Y.C., NY
Produced by Joseph A. Donofrio and Pat Martino
Production Director, Recorded and Mixed: Kirk Yano
Mastered by Chris Athens
Assistant Engineers: Larry Kerr, Stephen Fitzstephens
Art Direction: Burton Yount
Make no mistake—this is a tribute not only to Wes Montgomery, but also the resilience of human creativity. While this might smack of hyperbole, it should be remembered that Martino completely forgot how to play the guitar some 26 years ago as a result of brain surgery, and if diligence and application can supply the kind of results heard here, then any suggestion of hyperbole is surely questionable.
To hear a musician as in touch with his or her instrument as Martino is on the likes of “Unit Seven” is arguably to hear a musician who is not on the face of this earth to do anything else. The fact that Martino has everything from the point of view of technique would amount only to an exercise in clinical efficiency if, however, it wasn’t for the fact that he’s able to ally that with a fertile imagination—if anything, even more important to an improvising musician.
Similarly, on “If I Should Lose You,” Martino shows that he also knows the value of economy. Here his theme statement is nothing if not majestic. Indeed, comparing and contrasting this reading of the song with a version for Blue Note cut 46 years ago by Hank Mobley (on Soul Station) offers an object lesson in how diverse jazz musicians can be.
If, however, Martino’s mood there is reflective, he offers an up-tempo solo on “Twisted Blues” in which the balance of technique and tonal nuance is so finely struck that it can only be remarkable. The fact that the same is also true of the guitar-piano unisons on the theme statement of “Full House” suggests that if the last 26 years of Martino’s life have been some kind of journey, then he has reached some kind of ultimate destination with this quintet release. Jazz guitarists at this moment in time are nowhere near as thick on the ground as jazz singers, or singers who would claim some sort of affinity for the music. More pertinently, there’s only one Pat Martino. No one who professes an interest in improvised music should overlook this evidence of a master at work.
Nic Jones (All About Jazz)