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Music Review: Wes Montgomery – Boss Guitar

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Wes Montgomery, 1923-1968, remains one of the most influential jazz guitarists in history. His career can be divided into three sections which can be tracked by his record labels.

His work for the Riverside label, 1958-1963, was usually in small groups and can be considered his classic jazz period. During his time with Verve he added strings and some brass to his sound but basically stayed within a jazz setting and style. His final label, A&M from 1967-1968, found him moving toward a pop sound in hopes of achieving large commercial success.

The Original Jazz Classics Series has now reached back to his Riverside period to reissue his classic 1963 album Boss Guitar. It was a good choice for their series as it remains one of his strongest outings.

Boss Guitar finds him recording with a basic trio. Drummer Jimmy Cobb and Hammond B-3 organist Mel Rhyme are his accompanists. While Cobb lays down a solid foundation, it is Rhyme who provides the compliment to Montgomery’s guitar playing while taking some solos of his own.

Many of the tracks have a Latin feel. “Besame Mucho” gets the album off to an auspicious start as Montgomery begins with a series of haunting solos in a minor key. “The Breeze and I” is similar as Montgomery solos by replicating a progressive series of notes which was his early trademark.

As with many early jazz artists he chooses a couple of traditional pop classics for interpretation. “Days Of Wine and Roses” and “Canadian Sunset” are both given melodic work-outs with several improvisational solos.

Two original Wes Montgomery tunes are also included. “The Trick Bag” is a nice up-tempo number and “Fried Pies” at over six minutes gives each of the players a chance to shine.

“Dearly Beloved” is the track which presents the best solo by organist Mel Rhyme who would go on to a stellar career in his own right.

As with all the Original Jazz Classics releases there is an informative booklet that examines Montgomery’s career plus the original liner notes are included. The three bonus tracks are alternate takes of “Besame Mucho,” “The Trick Bag,” and “Fried Pies” and it is interesting to compare them to the ones used on the album.

Boss Guitar still sounds fresh almost a half century after its initial release. It is an album that more than lives up to its title.

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