(5 / 5)
First official release of Wes Montgomery’s one and only concert in Paris, France on March 27, 1965 at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées. Second Resonance release in partnership with France’s National Audio-visual Institute (INA), with remastered high-resolution audio transferred directly from the original tapes of the Office of French Radio and Television (ORTF).
Deluxe 2-CD & Digital Edition. A deluxe limited-edition, hand-numbered (of 3,000) 180-gram 2-LP gatefold set was released exclusively for Record Store Day’s ‘Black Friday’ Event’.
The jazz giant captured in concert during his only tour of Europe. Considered perhaps the greatest live Wes Montgomery performance ever. This two CD, 10 track release marks the first time the Montgomery Estate will be paid for this recording, which has been available as various illegal bootlegs since the 1970s. Resonance’s second album released in partnership with INA in a series of ORTF recordings, following 2016’s critically acclaimed Larry Young — In Paris: The ORTF Recordings.
The album features an all-star band with venerable post-bop pianist Harold Mabern, bassist Arthur Harper and bebop drummer Jimmy Lovelace, along with special guest tenor saxophonist Johnny Griffin (who played on another classic live Wes recording from 1962, “Full House”).
The package complete with an extensive liner note booklet, with archival photos from the actual concert by famed French music photographer Jean-Pierre Leloir; essays from Wes Montgomery scholar and director of jazz studies at Rutgers University in New Jersey, Vincent Pelote, the Chargé de Mission Pascal Rozat from INA, and Resonance producer Zev Feldman; plus interviews with pianist Harold Mabern and contemporary jazz guitar icon Russell Malone.
European audiences had eagerly wanted to see Wes Montgomery perform live, but his severe fear of flying had kept him in the States, where he played in mostly local clubs in and around Indianapolis. This 1965 European tour was the only overseas trip he would ever make, just after his 42nd birthday, and three years before his untimely death. According to Harold Mabern, this rhythm section was a relatively new group, having only played a handful of gigs prior to their European tour, but they were very tight and had a great time.
The concert was originally produced by legendary French jazz radio personality André Francis. Associate producer Pascal Rozat provides an insightful snapshot of the divide amongst French jazz as it relates to Wes Montgomery in his liner note essay, citing negative album reviews with phrases such as “gratuitous technical effects” and “very limited melodic invention”.
There is a real sense of freedom and sheer love of his craft, on this recording. Not to mention the palpable chemistry between Wes and his players. This 10-track recording, captured three months before the classic “Smokin’ at the Half Note” (Verve 1965), starts off with Wes Montgomery’s original composition “Four on Six.”
The set consists of many familiar tunes Wes had recorded before on his iconic “Riverside” studio sessions, including “Jingles” and “’Round Midnight” from The Wes Montgomery Trio in 1959, and “Twisted Blues” from “So Much Guitar!” in 1961, but at the 1,900 seat Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, we hear Wes stretch out like never before in front of a ravenous audience.
Harold Mabern’s original composition “To Wane,” a tribute to the great saxophonist Wayne Shorter, features some astounding, lightning speed soloing. Bassist Arthur Harper anchors the solidly swinging rhythm section and the re-mastering of the original tapes allows the bass to be properly heard for the very first time. Jimmy Lovelace, a longtime fixture at Small’s jazz club in New York City, tastefully propels the band from the drum chair.
1965 signalled a turning point in Wes Montgomery’s career, from the more straight-ahead, swinging jazz to a more lush, atmospheric sound that leaned toward what critics referred to as a more ‘commercial’ direction. In fact, this concert came about right in the middle of sessions for Montgomery’s Verve album “Bumpin’ “. Where Wes was backed up by an orchestra.
This live performance in Paris and subsequent recording, are the total opposite of that dreamy, laid back, chill out album Wes was part way through making when he steeped onto French soil and hit that Paris stage to literally lift off the roof, playing out of his skin that night.
It’s incredible to think that Wes only started playing guitar at the age of nineteen, and he had too short a window in his life to share his immense talent with the world. This amazing release captures the master at his very best and is a fitting testimony and tribute to a true great, who sadly never lived to fulfil his full potential. But recordings like this live on and keep his legacy and talent shining brightly. Thank goodness.
By Simon Redley
(2 / 5) ‘OK Zone’
(3 / 5) ‘Decent Zone’
(4 / 5) ‘Super Zone’
(5 / 5) ‘Awesome Zone’