Wes Montgomery with the Wynton Kelly Trio – Smokin’ in Seattle: Live at the Penthouse (1966) (2017)

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After bringing some lost 50s Wes Montgomery recordings to light, Resonance Records has now presented Smokin’ at the Half Note, redux. Recorded less than a year after those famous dates that perfectly captured what a force of nature Montgomery was in front of an audience, Smokin’ in Seattle: Live at the Penthouse (1966) is Montgomery once again paired with his erstwhile, virtual backing band The Wynton Kelly Trio for an engagement of nine, nightly gigs at a jazz club at the hub city of the Pacific Northwest. And what a backing band this was…Kelly was one of the great accompanists in all of jazz who also had the chops for blues-imbued solos and also featuring another key member of Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue ensemble, drummer Jimmy Cobb.

Culled from two, half-hour radio broadcasts from Seattle’s Penthouse jazz club over successive Thursdays, Smokin’ in Seattle is of course not the only time a Montgomery + Wynton Kelly Trio performance was captured, but this is the first (and perhaps, only) only such recordings that feature Ron McClure at the bass chair, who took over for the departed Paul Chambers before moving on to the classic lineup of Charles Lloyd’s ensemble just months later.

Montgomery’s fame by this time was finally beginning to catch up with his talents, as the then-current release Goin’ Out of My Head found crossover success, but that fame was coming largely at the expense of leaving jazz for proto-Muzak. Seattle was reassurance that in a live setting, he was still very much his old self.

In spite of the equal billing, Montgomery doesn’t appear until about halfway through each of the two shows, but take that ‘warm-up’ time to appreciate the grievously underappreciated piano of Kelly, who swings with such ease on “There Is No Greater Love” and in spite of endless choruses, he maintains his simmer with an uncanny sense of rhythm and blues in every note. “Not A Tear” is notable for Cobb’s polished 12/8 pattern and Kelly’s depiction of “If You Could See Me Now” isn’t terribly different from the one heard on Half Note but as before, he gracefully brightens up the melody.

This would rank as a worthwhile record if Wes never showed up. But he did, and mercy, he sure added fuel to the fire.

He tears his guitar asunder on his original “Jingles,” inventive on single note phrases before running through a gauntlet of octaves with the trio seemingly anticipating his every move. His bop diction is flawless on the too-brief “Blues In F” (the radio format necessitated a fade-out on this and “Oleo” just as Montgomery was reaching cruising altitude). My personal favorite Montgomery composition “West Coast Blues” gets undertaken here, where he dances on McClure’s and Cobb’s waltz with funky dense chords. The ballad “What’s New” is the other tune carried over from the Half Note show, and the guitar icon was just as warm and creative this go around as he was the prior year.

These well-engineered recordings immortalized gigs that might suffer in comparison to the celebrated ones chronicled on the purely magical Smokin’ at the Half Note, but they stand up to anyone else’s performances involving a piano trio fronted by guitar. Smokin’ in Seattle: Live at the Penthouse (1966) will quench the thirst of anyone wanting more of Wes and Wynton.


S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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