In the last decade Resonance has become one of the three most important archival jazz labels, along with Mosaic and Sony Legacy. In Paris is the fifth and best Wes Montgomery project on Resonance. It is one complete concert on two CDs, beautifully recorded, in a setting and with a band that clearly inspired Montgomery, on a night when he was on fire.
The night was March 27, 1965. The setting was the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris. The band was Harold Mabern (piano), Arthur Harper (bass) and Jimmy Lovelace (drums). Tenor saxophonist Johnny Griffin sits in on three numbers.
Throughout this concert, the elements of Montgomery’s creative process are familiar: the long strands of definitive single notes followed by his signature octaves; the calls and responses within his own solos; the riveting block chords. But he is in a special zone of fervor on this night. His octaves become engines of overwhelming momentum. Did this orderly improviser ever stretch out before as he does on Coltrane’s “Impressions,” fierce and free for chorus after chorus? Did he ever burn hotter than his solo on Mabern’s “To Wane”? It is physically impossible to play guitar that fast with your thumb, but Montgomery did it. “Jingles” is a blur, a guitar streak. He gets new, metallic sonorities from his instrument, yet he can still turn the mood rapt, like on “The Girl Next Door,” where his warm, lingering notes sound almost like an acoustic guitar. He teases out the melody with exquisite patience.
Mabern is also a surprise. He is the only player here who is still living, a respected elder statesman of mainstream postbop piano. In Paris proves that when he was 29 he was a monster. On “Four and Six,” he erupts in wild, ringing full-keyboard runs. On every tune he faced the challenge of following Montgomery, who had just laid the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées to waste. Mabern always holds his own, a large achievement.
Johnny Griffin’s gruff, gut-level-honest tenor is especially nice on “’Round Midnight.” But in the liner notes both Mabern and Russell Malone say they prefer the quartet without him. They are right. All by itself, this Montgomery band was a complete, self-contained orchestra.