Jimmy & Wes / The Dynamic Duo

Jimmy Smith & Wes Montgomery

Verve, 1967


REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


It was a match made in heaven.

There’s no lower benchmark to lean on when describing the inspired 1966 pairing of rabbit-fingered organist Jimmy Smith—the man who single-handedly elevated the Hammond B3 to prominence in his generation’s vision of jazz and soul music—with jazz guitar prodigy Wes Montgomery, a mammoth talent whose influence continues to echo down the generations of guitar players that have followed in his thumbprints.

The meeting of these two masters of their domain, each at the apex of their gifts, would have been sufficient to make this album the event it was clearly intended to be. When you add to the mix arranger Oliver Nelson, who helped bring to life key works for the likes of Thelonious Monk, Cannonball Adderley, Sonny Rollins, Buddy Rich, Stanley Turrentine, and Irene Reid, it starts to feel like the Harlem Globetrotters (them) against the Washington Generals (everyone else).

Jimmy & Wes / The Dynamic Duo was in fact so successful that a second album culled from the same week of sessions was issued two years later as Further Adventures of Jimmy & Wes. The late September 1966 sessions at Van Gelder Recording Studio in New Jersey also featured Grady Tate on drums and Ray Barretto on percussion, and on three of the six tracks found on this 1997 CD reissue, Nelson brings in a full 14-man big band rich with trumpets, trombones, clarinets, saxes and flutes of every description, along with bass player Richard Davis.

The end result is a musical concoction that does it all: it’s cool, it’s suave, it’s hip, it swings, it jukes, it jams; it dazzles with instrumental virtuosity, entertains with melody, and provokes movement with rhythm. Mostly, it just plain cooks.

Stupendous opener “Down By The Riverside” begins with the two principals silent as the horn section establishes the melody and feel and juking dynamics. Smith comes in around 1:15 or so of this 10-minute jam sounding like the coolest cat in town, sending one rippling run after another into the ether as the band simmers along underneath, intensity growing phrase by phrase. Montgomery mostly lays back in the weeds in the early going, pushing and pulling with the rhythm section, until around 5:00 he just goes wild with one impossibly fluid run after another appearing at astonishing velocity. The horns return briefly before retreating again; Wes is firmly in charge now, his supple licks feeling both lightning fast and effortless. The final two minutes see the pair dueling to a draw, running scales and parrying sequences back and forth until the horns come blasting back in for a concluding run.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Duke Ellington’s “Happy-Go-Lucky Local (Night Train)” gets a definitive soul-jazz treatment, opening with pinpoint horns over a nimble rhythm section, generating a ton of groove before Wes and Jimmy enter the picture. Wes goes first, rippling along until Jimmy joins in, counterpointing his runs. When the horns tiptoe back in for a moment around 3:00, they really start to cook, setting up an exuberantly soulful solo from Smith. By the time the horn section comes back in full force for the big finish, your fingers are either snapping or broken.

Smith’s purpose-composed “James And Wes” pares it down to the principals plus Tate and Barretto for the kind of concentrated interplay the two clearly had in mind when they agreed to join forces. As its title suggests, this cut encapsulates the entire album it the way it juxtaposes earthy, soulful organ with fluid, elegant guitar. Trying to describe this 8:11 cut is like trying to describe a painting while it’s being painted; there’s so much beauty and invention and artistic passion that you don’t even know where to start. Still, my favorite thing about the track, and in fact the whole album, is the way whenever one of the pair is soloing, the other stays in the background playing brief little notes and phrases, nudging the soloist along as if to say “C’mon brother, you got this”—as he inevitably does. And indeed the common characteristic Smith and Montgomery share is the way they can just simmer along, accelerating subtly until all of a sudden you realize their fingers are absolutely flying—and yet, they never feel rushed or anxious or jittery… just ridiculously fast.

The last full-band number here, “13 (Death March),” reminds a bit of Quincy Jones’ subsequent Walking in Space album with its airy feel, punchy orchestral flourishes and skittery drums. It’s more of an ensemble piece that offers all involved moments to shine. Original album closer “Baby It’s Cold Outside” is pure musical joy as they play out the song’s natural duet with Jimmy and Wes substituting organ and guitar for the original’s call-and-answer vocals. Montgomery’s solo is elegance and sophistication epitomized, in perfect contrast to Smith’s following, funkier, yet still ultra-smooth renderings.

The 1997 Verve reissue of this album adds an alternative take of Montgomery’s “O.G.D. (Road Song)” to the one previously heard on Further Adventures of Jimmy & Wes. Montgomery frames the song with a silky-smooth, rather George Benson-esque melody before Smith comes in with some staccato counterpoint that gives it a soul injection. Front to back it’s rich with groove and cascading, impressive runs from both principals; however much may have been worked out in advance, the interplay between the players here feels instinctual and organic.

As breathless as they sound 56 years later, WAAF Chicago jazz DJ Holmes Daylie’s liner notes for The Dynamic Duo are not wrong when they declare, “Jimmy Smith is so far out in front of the other Hammond organists, he’s lonesome” and “A guitarist is rare who can play with the authoritative control illustrated by [Montgomery].” Putting these two together generated a genuine embarrassment of musical riches, a pair of masters working not just side by side, but in tandem, with a healthy push and pull between them that drove each to make one of the finest recordings of either’s career. Dynamic doesn’t even begin to describe this, one of the peak moments in the history of soul-jazz.

Rating: A

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