Wes Montgomery Redux

To those who consider it a magical place, it's no surprise that Paris brings out the best in jazz performers. It's some mysterious elixir between the legendarily appreciative crowds, the food, the wine The Tuileries Garden, and I could go on and on. But whatever the reason, Paris has been the site of more than a few wonderful live jazz recordings few as storied as Wes Montgomery, In Paris, The Definitive ORTF Recording.

It may surprise some that in the supposedly sophisticated world of jazz listeners, bootlegs are a widespread obsession. There are just as many, perhaps even more, jazz fans who hunt down the stuff you can't buy in the daylight, meaning, ahem, recordings of live shows and unreleased studio recordings, as there are wild-eyed collectors of that same "unauthorized" material from artists like Springsteen, Led Zeppelin and yes, even The Beatles.

One widely traveled jazz bootleg has been the show on March 27, 1965 in Paris by guitarist Wes Montgomery and his quartet of pianist Harold Mabern, bassist Arthur Harper, and drummer Jimmy Lovelace. Over the years since, many different versions, most on cassette tape, were leaked of this show. All had the usual bootleg issues having to do with poor sound quality and generational decline as the recordings were copied from tape to tape.

Now, George Klabin's Resonance label and jazz music's leading archival detective Zev Feldman have unearthed the session reels of this performance at the French Radio and Television Office (ORTF), and made a high-quality, high-resolution digital transfer. After further sound restoration by Klabin and Fran Gala and LP mastering by Bernie Grundman, Resonance late last year released what is destined to the definitive edition of this landmark live jazz recording. As with all Resonance LP releases, the pressing quality of this 180 gram, 2-LP set is outstanding. A package of five black-and-white photo postcards are included, as is a 8-page booklet of essays, one by Mabern, the last surviving member of the quartet.

Rather than fall into any futile arguments about Montgomery's place in the history of the jazz guitar and whether he later "sold out" by playing a softer and more accessible form of the music, it's best to concentrate on utterly sublime performances like his blistering solos here in John Coltrane's "Impressions." Or the way on the very next track, "The Girl Next Door," he slows the tempos and spins an atmospheric and utterly unique web of single notes around a familiar classic. An appearance by tenor saxophonist Johnny Griffin on three tunes including a version of Monk's " 'Round Midnight," while adding another not unpleasing instrumental voice, adds surprisingly little of musical substance to the proceedings.

The biggest issue with the many bootlegs of this show was that Montgomery's signature tone was usually lost in the distortion and noise. In these gorgeous transfers, it rings out as true and gleamingly inspired as the day it was first recorded. It's so rare that what was once a bootleg is reclaimed from sonic irrelevance. Once again, a tip of the audiophile hat goes to Resonance. Please keep up the good work.

mmole's picture

...and unavailable on vinyl. Resonance's web site shows it as "sold out." Amazon lists it as only available from third party sellers with prices starting at $109.

The vinyl was once again a "Record Store Day Exclusive," from Resonance that immediately disappeared from the bins and landed in the resale market as did their prior Bill Evans releases.

I can tell them how to sell more records: make more.

fetuso's picture

I wish I had seen your comment before I checked every vinyl web site I Know. Why even review a record that isn't avaiavailable? i'm genuinely annoyed.

volvic's picture

I have bought quite a few records and CD's from Resonance records. Love the sound. I usually buy the CD and the vinyl, (yes, I haven't sat down to set up software and a computer to "digitize" the vinyl on my computer), because I don't mind supporting the artists and the mission of Resonance. That said, I am finding it quite tiresome when I go to buy something to find the vinyl is always sold out. So much so that I have stopped buying lately because of the scarcity of the vinyl record. Message to Resonance Records; order more vinyl, some of us are giving up on you.

volvic's picture

I contacted them to see if there will be more vinyl in the near future, so far no replies.

jpfahey3's picture

gents, look on Tidal... it's available in HI-FI.

Allen Fant's picture

Thanks! for sharing- RB

Regarding Paris, there is something magical about those venues.
Instant purchase (CD).