Wynton Kelly Trio/Wes Montgomery

October 16, 2017

Smokin’ in Seattle: Live at the Penthouse (1966)
Resonance Records HCD 2029

Bill Evans
Another Time: The Hilversum Concert
Resonance Records HCD 2031

During the late 1950s and early 1960s, there were two accepted ways to play Jazz piano: the introspective and the extroverted. Although others followed the same cerebral paths, Bill Evans (1929-1980) was generally considered the exemplar of the first genre. The latter was more difficult to define, but because of his versatility playing ballads and blues plus the constant demand for him as an accompanist, Wynton Kelly (1931-1971) ranks as one of the most proficient players of the era. Oddly enough, despite their differences, the first – and in Kelly’s case most extended – brush with fame came as a member of famous Miles Davis combos of the time. Serendipitously two newly-discovered live sets featuring the stylists have been released, which like film retrospectives allow for a consideration of their respective skill nearly 50 years down the road.

Smokin’ in Seattle: Live at the Penthouse is a club date where Kelly’s trio of the time, filled out by bassist Ron McClure and drummer Jimmy Cobb not only backs guitarist Wes Montgomery, which they did frequently in person and on record at that time, but also has space for the trio, featuring Kelly to play four tracks on its own. Recorded two years later in a Dutch concert hall, Another Time: The Hilversum Concert is a conventional run through of the material Evans was featuring at the time. However it’s most notable for the presence of drummer Jack DeJohnette, who was rarely recorded with Evans; and the fact that bassist Eddie Gomez is as prominent on the tracks as Evans himself.

Torn between mass acceptance for the lush arrangements that backed his ballad interpretations of pop hits and the straight-ahead music he’d performed for years, Montgomery usually emphasized his roots on live dates. And even the quick set-closer run-through the quartet gives to “Blues in F” and “Oleo” move with the kind of free-flowing zest lacking when like unwilling school kids at a math exam, the quartet members play the guitarist’s more so-called popular songs. As a penitent in confessional trying to redeem himself, Montgomery is more straightforwardly engaged elsewhere. “Wt Coast Blues”, one of the guitarist’s most renowned lines is animated with his characteristic verve as well as a fantastic chord display where he appears to be playing two string melodies in tandem. Given an impeccable flow from Kelly’s chording and tweaked still further by Cobb’s droll pops, “What’s New” includes brief snatches of other heads plus Montgomery articulating the vamp with such clangorous power that he could be heading for Metal territory.

Like a palimpsest where the remains of an earlier design still are reflected when the item is removed, the four trio selections are notable as well. Gently swinging enough to not upset the Jazz tourists, Kelly still invests real emotion in the interpretations. Cobb’s Latin vamp on “Not a Tear”, for instance, underlines the song’s shift from sentimental to steamroller as the pianist expresses it without negating balladic underpinnings. “If You Could See Me Now”, is an exercise in shaded sophistication as Kelly elongates the treatment with silken breaks, altering the coloration but not changing the easy flow. A jumping blues, “Sir John” is animated, lively and bright, and as McClure doubles the back-up with rhythmic thumps, the pianist quotes liberally from “Blues in the Closet” during the intro and ending.

By universal concession, Evans was no Blues player and he wisely stays away from any themes like that during the nine-track concert. Gently swinging without raising a sweat, like a horse being prodded by a stick— perhaps literally – Evans makes the interpretations of the performance into a tandem horse-drawn carriage as early as “Very Early:, the second track. Here, the slashes from and multi-fingered plucks from Gomez add considerable panache to the treatment. In general the disparity between Evans’ trio and Kelly’s is that while the later function as a unit, Evans’ is that of three soloists playing at the same time. This is most apparent on “Nardis”. While the Miles Davis classic is elaborated with note-perfect swing, real excitement and color enters into it like blood from an IV into a sickly body only once DeJohnette solos. Expanding a collection of rolls, cymbal emphasis and pumps to their rhythmic limit, he does so without breaking the thematic line. As low-key as he is smooth and unhurried, the entry of the other two to complete the tune appears as natural as a spouse finishing another’s thought.

Gomez’s is featured most notably on “Embraceable You” and “Emily”. On the former his pizzicato introduction uses note variables to toughen the line. Later he sashays all over his bass, first at a moderated pace, then staccato, building up to a mufti-string extravaganza before downshifting to the melody. DeJohnette’s brush work and Evans’ fills contribute to this. On “Emily” his contrapuntal shadowing of the pianist quickens the balladic gait. This Emily is no child but a swinging woman.

Overall it’s evident that at this point Evans is most invested in interpretations of his own compositions. At least “Turn out the Stars” is his best performance here. Beginning the head with quiet authority, he maintains control of the variations even after the other join him and easily vibrates alongside the bassist to create a unique interpretation.

Evans has been sufficiently honored in Jazz history; Kelly a lot less so. One may have been more of an innovator; the other more of a consolidator. But these live sessions prove that whoever was a more memorable player on any given night often depended on the time, the circumstances and the personnel.

–Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Smokin’: 1. There Is No Greater Love 2. Not a Tear 3. Jingles 4. What’s New 5. Blues in F 6. Sir John 7. If You Could See Me Now 8. West Coast Blues 9. O Morro Não Tem Vez 10. Oleo

Personnel: Smokin’: Wes Montgomery (guitar); Wynton Kelly (piano); Ron McClure (bass) and Jimmy Cobb (drums)

>Track Listing: Another: 1. You’re Gonna Hear from Me 2. Very Early 3. Who Can I Turn To? 4. Alfie 5. Embraceable You 6. Emily 7. Nardis 8. Turn Out the Stars 9. Five

Personnel: Another: Bill Evans (piano); Eddie Gomez (bass) and Jack DeJohnette (drums)