Wes Montgomery was one of the most respected and influential jazz guitarists of all time and was taken from us too soon when he suffered a fatal heart attack in 1968 at the age of 45. Thankfully Montgomery packed a lot of music into his lifetime and has left behind a treasure trove of material. “In the Beginning” is particularly special in that it features 26 rare and never-before-released tunes recorded by the guitar icon between 1949 and 1958.
These were the years Montgomery was honing his craft — he only taught himself to play the instrument in 1943 at age 20 — developing the signature style and sound that became his trademarks. With 136 minutes of music jammed onto two CDs, it’s a set that should be appreciated and devoured by old-school jazz fans.
“What comes across (in these recordings) is a sense of fun and discovery,” Who guitarist Pete Townshend notes in the liner notes. “There is mischief and experiment. This was a period when jazz was breaking ground on all fronts, and I hadn’t realized how sophisticated a guitarist Wes was even in these early days.”
There aren’t any clunkers to be found on “In the Beginning,” but pay special attention to Montgomery’s takes on “Fascinating Rhythm,” “Brazil,” “Django,” “Caravan,” “Soft Winds,” “A Night in Tunisia,” “Love for Sale” and “All the Things You Are.” Simply amazing. (Jeffrey Sisk)