Imagine an episode of History Detectives, the popular PBS program, devoted to examining a recently discovered stash of seminal recordings by the late jazz great Wes Montgomery. The provenance? The players? The circumstances? The guitars? Those are just a few of the questions concerning the mystery behind Echoes of Indiana Avenue, with its slowly unraveling secrets and newly unearthed pleasures.
Kudos to a distinguished panel of jazz sleuths for shedding considerable light on this nine-track trove. Dan Morgenstern, David Baker, Michael Cuscuna, Pat Martino and Bill Milkowski contribute to the album’s revealing liner notes, and additional context is provided by recollections from the guitarist’s siblings, pianist Buddy Montgomery and bassist Monk Montgomery. You’ll have to read the essays to appreciate the high value Morgenstern and company place on this discovery, but suffice it to say that these previously unissued performances feature a rotating lineup including pianists Earl Van Riper and Buddy, bassist Monk and Melvin Rhyne on piano and organ.
In other words, Wes is very much at home, casually collaborating with family and friends in a series of relaxed small combo settings, apparently recorded just prior to his 1958 Pacific Jazz debut. Save for the engagingly animated opener, “Diablo’s Dance,” and the coda, a funky improvised burner dubbed “After Hours Blues,” the tunes gathered here are jazz and pop standards. Not surprisingly, Thelonious Monk is well represented. Early on, “‘Round Midnight” and “Straight, No Chaser” arrive, followed by Horace Silver’s “Nica’s Dream.” Throughout the album’s mix of studio and live recordings, Montgomery’s budding gift for combining soulful melodic embellishments with thumb-driven octaves and chords is apparent. No question about it: Even at this early stage in his career, Montgomery’s artistry was as solid as Indiana limestone.