WYNTON KELLY TRIO / WES MONTGOMERY Smokin' At The Half Note (Euphoria)
According to Pat Metheny "Smokin' At The Half Note" is "the absolute greatest jazz guitar album ever made", but for some reason this 1965 album doesn't really strike sparks for me. Maybe it's because it's not quite as totally live as the title suggests: unspecified parts of the album were recorded at Rudy Van Gelder's studio, and unless the audience are being uncharacteristically reserved and/or unappreciative it sounds like the entirety of the second side qualifies. Then there's the music itself, which is never less than pleasant and accomplished, underpinned throughout by Montgomery's fluid, dextrous guitar playing and the agile timekeeping abilities of a former Miles Davis rhythm section. Yet it's all a bit too tasteful and refined, lacking in the kind of variety and vitality that makes an album truly stand out. Certainly, the studio side seems to have more immediacy to it, perhaps a comment on the limits of live recording techniques circa 1965, yet it squanders the early advantage of "Unit 7" by following it with the almost indistinguishable "Four On Six". However, the album's closer, "What's New", ascends to heights the rest of the record can barely scrape against, a mournful, liquid rendition soaked in the kind of feeling that totally evades what precedes it.
Euphoria is a jazz-specialising sidekick of the long established Sundazed reissue label, and their "Smokin' At The Half Note" is a fine record. The packaging's authentic, subtly substituting the original cover's Verve logo for their own, and the sound's just dandy, if stopping a little short of the audiophile standards for which it stakes no claim.