Wes Montgomery – Boss Guitar

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Jazz Hall of Fame.

This is one of Wes Montgomery’s best albums from his prime ’60s period, if not THE best. Rich and full-bodied but clear and spacious, the 1963 All Tube Analog sound is perfect for Wes’s organ trio format. 

Based on what I’m hearing my feeling is that most of the natural, full-bodied, smooth, sweet sound of the album is on the master tape, and that all that was needed to get that vintage sound correctly on to disc was simply to thread up that tape on a reasonably good machine and hit play.

The fact that nobody seems to be able to make an especially good sounding record — certainly not as good sounding as this one — these days tells me that in fact I’m wrong to think that such an approach would work. Somebody should have been able to figure out how to do it by now. In our experience that is simply not the case today, and has not been for many years.

Original Vs. Reissue

The original Riverside pressings are the best, right?

Not in our experience. We think that’s just another Record Myth.

Some of you may have discovered that many original records on Riverside are mostly awful sounding so we are not the least bit worried that this OJC won’t beat the pants off of the original, any reissue you may have, and of course any Heavy Vinyl pressing produced by anyone, anywhere at any time.

George Horn

George Horn was doing brilliant work for Fantasy all through the ’80s. This album is proof that his sound is the right sound for this music.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Besame Mucho 
Dearly Beloved 
Days Of Wine And Roses 
The Trick Bag

Side Two

Canadian Sunset 
Fried Pies 
The Breeze And I 
For Heaven’s Sake

AMG Review

Before he moved away from straight-ahead jazz and starting playing what is now known as smooth jazz, Wes Montgomery was one of bop’s finest guitarists. Montgomery’s bop period ended much too soon, but thankfully, he recorded his share of rewarding bop albums when he was still bop-oriented — and one of them is Boss Guitar, which Orrin Keepnews produced in 1963.

It’s a trio recording, employing Mel Rhyne on organ and Jimmy Cobb on performances that have held up well over time… Boss Guitar is among the bop-oriented Montgomery albums that should continue to be savored after all these years.

Insightful In-Depth Review

Of Wes Montgomery, most jazzbos say that the axe man’s peppy version of the Latin “Besame Mucho” is the best track on the legendary 1963 Boss Guitar Riverside recording. Sure, Montgomery plays the lead hot. The normally laidback love song takes on a fiery intensity through the Rev’s (as Montgomery was known for his teetotalin’ ways) single-note flurries and fast-paced chords. However, while that piece as the opening track allows the guitarist to show off his technical abilities, it’s the slow songs that allow him and his two bandmates to really express themselves.

Take, for example, the Rev’s leisurely approach to Henry Mancini’s theme song to the movie Days of Wine and Roses (ironically, a film about alcohol addiction). Montgomery’s unhurried playing shows off the beauty of the melody. Jimmy Cobb’s brushwork on drums sounds as natural as a flowing stream and Mel Rhyne’s Hammond B-3 organ gently lays down an atmospheric drone. Montgomery is obviously the boss here, and the unusualness of having the guitar lead a jazz trio disappears through the fluidity of th0000e music.

The same can said for the ballad “For Heaven’s Sake”, a tune best known as a love song by Billie Holiday. The instrumental version here comes off just as romantic, although Rhyne’s organ work does get a little churchy at the end. Montgomery’s soft playing seems right on the mark, going for the tenderness at the heart of the melody.

Remember, the American rock music scene in 1963 was in its doldrums. This was the year when the Singing Nun had the number one record, and other sappy tunes like “Blue Velvet” and “Hey Paula” ruled the charts. Sure, there were the Ronettes and the Beach Boys, not to mention Bob Dylan doing “Blowin’ in the Wind”, “Masters of War”, and “A Hard Rain’s A Gonna Fall”. These may be fine songs, but do you really want to make love to them? Jazz filled that niche back then, and nobody really did it with more suavity than Montgomery (with apologies to the Blue Note roster, which put out some consistently fine music that year, but the music of Jimmy Smith, Kenny Burrell, Grant Green and company certainly sounds more in its place at a nightclub or barroom than home in a bedroom).

While it may not be Montgomery’s finest release—that would be a matter of opinion more than fact—it certainly is one of the celebrated guitarist’s most notable achievements. If you are looking for some smooth jazz that’s not somnambulant, passionate yet relaxed, intimate without being overly dramatic … in other words, if you are looking for cool, this is the place to find it.

Steven Horowitz