Reviews Zone

Wes Montgomery / Wynton Kelly Trio: Smokin’ in Seattle Live at the Penthouse (Resonance Records) Out now




4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)



On a sticker attached to the front cover of my copy of this new record, it says this is a “newly unearthed jazz gem.” Is it? Well, most certainly; the answer is in the affirmative. Previously unreleased live sets featuring jazz guitar icon Wes Montgomery, with piano legend Wynton Kelly’s Trio featuring bassist Ron McClure & drummer Jimmy Cobb, recorded at Seattle’s jazz club, the Penthouse, on April 14th and 21st in 1966.

10 tracks, circa 65 minutes of music. “Smokin’ in Seattle” is the the third commercially released live album of guitar icon Wes Montgomery with piano legend Wynton Kelly, recorded only seven months after their classic 1965 live album “Smokin’ at the Half Note”, notably referred to by Pat Metheny as, “the absolute greatest jazz guitar album ever made.” Wes Montgomery influenced many guitar payers with his unusual technique of plucking the strings with the side of his thumb, which gave him a unique sound.

Wynton’s dynamic trio features the solid rhythm section of bassist Ron McClure –who took the place of long-time trio bassist Paul Chambers, then joined Charles Lloyd’s “classic quartet” with Keith Jarrett and Jack DeJohnette following this stint with Wes and Wynton – and the legendary drummer Jimmy Cobb,  most well-known for Miles Davis’s “Kind of Blue”, “Sketches of Spain” and “Someday My Prince Will Come”, albums.

This release includes an extensive liner note book featuring rare photos, essays by guitar icon Pat Metheny, Seattle Times writer Paul de Barros, producer Zev Feldman, original recording engineer and Seattle Radio DJ Jim Wilke, and Ron McClure; plus interviews with Jimmy Cobb and Kenny Barron.

The Penthouse jazz club was opened in 1962 by Charles Puzzo, Sr., and quickly became a destination for jazz talents such as John Coltrane, Oscar Peterson, Stan Getz and The Three Sounds. Radio personality Jim Wilke aired live broadcasts from the club every Thursday night. His weekly radio show, Jazz from the Penthouse’, aired on Seattle’s KING FM from 1962 through 1968, and has never been re-broadcast.

“The experience of playing with those guys was like being baptized,” says Ron McClure in his liner notes essay. “The music was joyous. It was buoyant. It was happy; positive — like they were as people.” By the time the 1966 Wes Montgomery with the Wynton Kelly Trio gig rolled around, Wes was on top of his game. His album “Goin’ Out of My Head” on the Verve label, had shot up the Billboard R&B charts to # 12, and within a year would garner a 1967 Grammy and sell close to a million copies.

At the pinnacle of his career, but sadly just one year later, he would no longer be with us. Wes Montgomery died suddenly in June 1968 at the age of 45, of a heart attack at his home in Indiana.

Wynton Kelly first collaborated with Wes Montgomery in 1962 with their album “Full House” (Riverside), also with Jimmy Cobb on drums (McClure joined Wynton Kelly’s trio a few years later in 1965, replacing Paul Chambers), followed by the legendary “Smokin’ at the Half Note”.

The Wynton Kelly trio opened each set of the nine-night engagement, with a couple of tunes before Wes joined them on stage. This album opens with “There Is No Greater Love,” an upbeat rendition of Isham Jones’s well known jazz standard. Wynton glides through seven choruses filled with his trademark lyrical legato lines, with bluesy twists and turns along the way.  Blue Mitchell’s swinging bebop tune “Sir John” and Antonio Carlos Jobim’s bossa nova “O Morro Não Tem Vez.” are standouts. The album finishes the musical journey with the masterful Sonny Rollin’s “Oleo.”


By Christopher Weston



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