Race Routes For The Somnambulists
I got my first stereo when I was twelve, a cheap GE boombox with detachable little speakers that smelled of formaldehyde and soldering iron. The tinny speakers within the particleboard boxes rattled horribly even at low volumes, so that my George Michael cassettes would transform from ultra-smooth R&B into the post-meal symphony of a farting octogenarian. The radio antenna worked poorly in my basement bedroom but I tried to maximize the signal by placing the stereo as high and as close to the window well as I could. Radio stations would hold their signal for twenty minutes or so before drifting off of the dial, which would require constant, minute and delicate readjustments.
The new stereo gave me a degree of listening autonomy that I had never had before, and the fact that my mother could only afford a cassette boombox at a time when all of my friends were getting CD players did not diminish the freedom that I felt. I spent less of my earnings on candy and more on cassingles. This is the time during which all of my musical predilections blossomed into minor obsessions; when I would sit and listen to a Dead Kennedys cassette five times in a row; when I would read Queensryche lyrics instead of studying my Catechism.
During this time, I fell asleep every night listening to music, drifting in and out of dream states at the urging of The Edge’s echoing guitar, or waking abruptly as the easy bounce of Paula Abdul’s “Forever Your Girl“ gave way to the punchy synth line that opens “Straight Up”. I was guided into the funhouse/nightmare world of Oingo Boingo and, I like to think, had some compassion and sensitivity embedded deep in my subconscious listening to Erasure‘s The Innocents over and over and over again while I slept.
My associative memories of these albums have created odd effects when I revisit them. Although most people would hear a song like Erasure’s “A Little Respect” and want to dance, when I hear it, I want to get into bed and go to sleep, perchance to dream a little dream of life in a post-bro environment. The era of my consumption that was defined by somnambulist jaunts through musical dream states instilled in me a lasting love for listening to music while falling asleep, and for the soporific effects of slowcore, Chopin, and ambient music. And it is in this spirit that I offer up this week’s featured album, The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery.
Wes Montgomery is generally regarded as one of the most innovative guitarists of the 20th Century. He developed a very unique style of playing, beautifully displayed in the above video, where he abandoned the use of a pick and instead used his thumb to strum chords. The result is a softer strum, forgoing the bright attack that you would hear if he used a pick. He coupled his strumming technique with the use of block chords, which is what you hear when he is sliding his hand up and down the neck. Although he played the traditional single note solos, he incorporated a lot of the block chords, which create very pleasant harmonic cascades.
Montgomery gave off an air of effortlessness in his playing, tossing off solos like fun little platitudes. In the following video, his enjoyment is palpable, and the sense of ease and joy in his performance is infectious.
The personnel on The Incredible Jazz Guitar of… is lean, a tight quartet consisting of the inimitable rhythm section of the Heath Bros., Albert and Percy, and Tommy Flanagan on piano. The playing throughout is rock solid, but Montgomery’s loose, swinging style takes center stage as he saunters through these eight songs, a cool mix of standards and originals.
His signature tone is both exhilarating and soporific. There is something in his cascading arpeggios, the softness and the warmth in his playing that makes my eyes roll back a little bit and puts me in an autumnal reverie. For me, the grace imbued in his solos sounds like an arboreal lullaby, a call for the leaves to let go of their purchase, sending the trees into a peaceful quiescence. It’s an album I pull out every fall to ease me from summer’s rush and ready my mind for long, wintry afternoons spent with my stereo, which is a little nicer than my first boombox but still the helm of the rickety ship that guides me into musical dreams – like the one where I am the drummer for Queensryche, and like to sing opera adaptations of Oingo Boingo records with my wife Paula Abdul when I’m not on tour with my best friends in Erasure.
Wes Montgomery – The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery – 1960
2. D-Natural Blues
3. Polka Dots and Moonbeams
4. Four on Six
5. West Coast Blues
6. In Your Own Sweet Way
7. Mr. Walker (Renie)
8. Gone With The Wind
Wes Montgomery Related articles
- Music Review: Chet Baker – It Could Happen To You (blogcritics.org)
- Lee Ritenour picks present, future guitar greats (sfgate.com)
- Green Room Jazz Sessions program has a goal of enlivening jazz (pbpulse.com)
- Music Review: Guitarist of Broad Range, With Lots of Friends (nytimes.com)
- TRIUMPH vocalist / Drummer Gil Moore – “The Objective Was Just To Get Back With Rik, Reunite, Play A Couple Of Big Shows, And Give People A Chance To Come Out” (bravewords.com)
- Eubanks happy to be on the road (mysanantonio.com)