Little Brother Montgomery – Goodbye Mister Blues (1973)

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To call this the most successful melding of New Orleans-style rag with hard Chicago blues presupposes that there ever was one before.

Eurreal “Little Brother” Montgomery, as was his way, tills up new earth here, and with remarkable results.

A stride pianist of great wit and power, Montgomery had the rare ability to keep pace with the early jazzers of his era — and was one of fewer still who appear on recordings with written arrangements. He had more in common, then, with Jelly Roll Morton than with, say, Otis Spann (for whom Montgomery is an obvious influence) and once played a late-1940s date at Carnegie Hall with Kid Ory’s legendary Dixieland band.

Even so, he was put to a dramatic, cross-pollinating test on “Goodbye Mister Blues,” recorded for Delmark in Chicago with the traditional State Street Swingers — this trombone-plunging, clarinet-chirping get-down aggregate straight out of an afternoon parade down a tilted French Quarter alley way.

The joys are many, and that’s before Montgomery — a native of Kentwood, north of New Orleans, where his dad operated a honky tonk for loggers on the other side of the lake — takes the microphone to sing. That high, trembling vibrato is as unforgettable as it is swinging and true.

Like the older style it emulates, Montgomery’s album often focuses more on ensemble improvisation than on any individual player. Yet, it’s important to remember — before Montgomery’s biting asides on “Goodbye Mister Blues” blow your hair back — that he also appeared as a sideman with Otis Rush and Buddy Guy between 1956-60.

Early jazz and the modern-day blues that then followed unite in this shotgun marriage that still intrigues, notably within chestnuts like “South Rampart St. Parade,” “Riverside Blues” and “Panama Rag.”

Nick’s notes: Montgomery, who passed away in 1985, was said to have made an early career out of gigs around Ferriday — until the flood of 1922 put parts of the town under eight feet of water. … The Chicago-based State Street Singers also appeared with Big Bill Broonzy. … Some of the best-known tunes by Montgomery, who recorded some for north Louisiana music-store legend Stan “The Record Man” Lewis, include “Shreveport Farewell” and “Vicksburg Blues.”

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