In 2012, the Resonance label issued a collection of previously unheard Wes Montgomery recordings. That release, titled Echoes of Indiana Avenue, featured recordings made in Montgomery's home state of Indiana in the late 1950s. The tapes used on Echoes contained some three hours of music, a treasure trove for Montgomery fans, of pre-Riverside, pre-fame recordings.
With precious little documentation, session recorder Carroll DeCamp went uncredited on the original release. A Montgomery disciple, Brook Reindollar and fellow pianist Lewis Porter, contacted Resonance Records' Zev Feldman, informing him it was DeCamp who made those recordings. Feldman made a promise to release the remainder of the recordings and has done exactly that, with DeCamp fully credited, on Wes Montgomery - Back On Indiana Avenue: The Carroll DeCamp Recordings.
The pair of releases nearly didn't happen at all. In the late 1990s, saxophonist Jamey Aebersold had the presence of mind to make DAT copies of the original tapes on loan from DeCamp. After he returned the tapes, DeCamp's home caught fire, with the original tapes lost in the blaze. We the fans are the benefactors of this foresight from Aebersold.
The music on the two discs is divided up by the types of combos Montgomery was playing with. Disc one features piano quartets with guitar, piano, bass, and drums while disc two includes Nat "King" Cole-style trios with guitar, piano, and bass. Though the exact session dates and musicians involved remain unknown, one thing is clear: the musicianship is top notch.
Disc one opens with the hypnotic riff of "Four On Six". Montgomery's playing is as clean and laid back as it is nimble. The track includes an equally nimble piano part and a strong bass break with Montgomery playing chords over an intricate solo. The track swings from beginning to end. It's impossible not to move to this.
"Round Midnight" showcases piano instead the organ from Montgomery's later recorded version and some brilliant soloing over this classic ballad. Montgomery knows when to cut loose but also when to show restraint in his playing, making for a standout track. Montgomery's opening solo on the Miles Davis classic, "So What," mimics that of Davis himself, while adding his own stamp. The bass and drums really drive the track here, locking into an irresistible groove.
The organ trio tracks feature Mel Rhyne on organ and Paul Parker on drums. "Jingles is a standout here, with Montgomery alternating between individual note and chord leads, all while maintaining a strong rhythmic feel. Killer stuff. The horns on "Whisper Not" from the sextet tracks add to the song's melancholy feel, with Montgomery more than willing to let David Baker and David Young on trombone and tenor saxophone respectively shine. Highlights from disc two include a blistering "Stompin' At The Savoy" that lives up to its names with the musicians all playing at breakneck speeds and an equally lively "Between the Devil And The Deep Blue Sea." Montgomery was able to adapt to seemingly any style combo he played with easily and masterfully.
The liner notes are equally extensive and include interviews with Malcom Decamp (Carroll's brother) and fellow jazz guitar legend George Benson. The presentation is fantastic throughout and while the sound quality varies, it is generally of very high quality, especially given its origins and age.
Wes Montgomery was a giant of jazz guitar. He may have been an unknown when he made the recordings on Back on Indiana Avenue, but talent such as his was not going to go unnoticed for long. We are fortunate to have the rest of these sessions finally available and with more documentation than before. Highly recommended for Montgomery fans.