With a lot of sleuthing and a team of experts on the case, long lost tapes of Wes Montgomery have been discovered and restored. Resonance Records will release Echoes of Indiana Avenue – the first full album of previously unheard Montgomery music in over 25 years – on March 6, 2012, which would have been Montgomery’s 88th birthday. Over a year and a half in the making, the release will provide a rare, revealing glimpse of a bona fide guitar legend. The tapes are the earliest known recordings of Montgomery as a leader, pre-dating his auspicious 1959 debut on Riverside Records. The album showcases Montgomery in performance from 1957-1958 at nightclubs in his hometown of Indianapolis, Ind., as well as rare studio recordings. The release is also beautifully packaged, containing previously unseen photographs and insightful essays by noted music writers and musicians alike, including guitarist Pat Martino and Montgomery’s brothers Buddy and Monk.
On this scintillating discovery, Montgomery plays it strictly straight ahead, swinging with a momentum and ferocity that is positively visceral – a clear display of Montgomery’s bebop side. Listening to these recordings only reaffirms how Montgomery exerted such a profound influence over generations of guitarists – from George Benson, Pat Martino and Joe Pass to John Scofield, Pat Metheny, Kevin Eubanks, and Russell Malone to Kurt Rosenwinkel.
Joined by such Naptown colleagues as drummer Paul Parker and keyboardist Melvin Rhyne (who would later appear on Montgomery’s first Riverside release), pianist Earl Van Riper, bassist Mingo Jones and drummer Sonny Johnson, as well as brothers Monk on acoustic bass and Buddy on piano (the brothers featured on one track), Montgomery swings with blistering abandon on a program of burners and ballads. Included here are renditions of Shorty Rogers’ “Diablo’s Dance,” Erroll Garner’s “Misty” and Billy Strayhorn’s “Take the A Train” as well as jazz standards “Darn That Dream” and “Body and Soul.” Montgomery also reveals some bluesy roots with an earthy improvised “After Hours Blues,” which has him playing with Guitar Slim-like nastiness. Elsewhere on Echoes of Indiana Avenue there’s a stirring duet between Wes and organist Rhyne on a moody rendition of Thelonious Monk’s “‘Round Midnight” and a faithful rendition of Horace Silver’s Latin-tinged “Nica’s Dream.” Montgomery and his brothers also tackle Thelonious Monk’s “Straight, No Chaser” with bop-ish authority.
How these long lost tapes from the early stage of Montgomery’s solo career finally emerged after being on the shelf for more than 50 years is a tale of intrigue that will enthrall collectors and aficionados. Although the identity of the person who made the original recordings remains unknown, the tapes may have passed through several hands before they were eventually acquired in 1990 by a guitarist and Montgomery fan Jim Greeninger. Due to their fragile condition, he immediately made digital transfers of the original tapes and set out to make a deal with a record company. It wasn’t until 2008 that Greeninger, who had tried selling the tapes on eBay, contacted Michael Cuscuna, the respected veteran producer who has had a long track record with Blue Note Records and is also the co-founder of Mosaic Records. In the summer of 2010, Cuscuna contacted Zev Feldman of Resonance Records, who served as a producer on the project.
“We had no idea when we got the tapes what they were exactly,” Feldman says in a news release. “All we knew was that Wes was on them. So between 2010 and 2011, I made three trips to Indianapolis where I interviewed and discussed the recordings with scholars, musicians and friends of Wes. It was a big mystery and we had to act like gumshoes in piecing it all together. It was actually in part because of label founder and president George Klabin’s support that we were able to make this project possible.”
In addition to its release via physical CD and digital formats, Resonance has created a hand-numbered, hand-assembled LP edition pressed by audiophile embraced Record Technology, Inc. (RTI) and with a deluxe gatefold LP jacket by Stoughton Press. The two 12″ LP’s were mastered by the legendary Bernie Grundman at 45 RPM for the best sound. Resonance is also offering a free digital booklet with purchase where available (which will contain all of the content in the physical editions).
“I’m thrilled that this music will finally see the light of day,” wrote Cuscuna in the liner notes. “And even more delighted that it is all being done in the best possible way.”
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