Smokin' In Seattle: Live At The Penthouse (1966)

Wynton Kelly Trio / Wes Montgomery

Resonance Records, 2017

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


Once more into the breach, as the suburban kid who grew up on a steady diet of Boston, Journey and Fleetwood Mac attempts to review a jazz album recorded when he was three years old. But truly, there are no excuses sufficient to justify passing on this finger-snapping, foot-tapping excursion through some of the finest live jazz ever to grace the rainy city.

The Jazz From the Penthouse radio program aired on KING-FM in Seattle for 30 minutes every Thursday from February 1962 through August 1968, hosted by jazz DJ/impresario Jim Wilke. Like so many superb jazz recordings that have surfaced in recent years, this one capturing two consecutive Thursday nights of Jazz From The Penthouse in April 1966 sat in the vaults for decades before being brought out into the light and shared with the world, and it’s a fine thing that it was.

Wes Montgomery’s career as a solo artist was just taking off at the time this album was recorded. Montgomery had worked with Kelly and his trio frequently over the previous two years, having recorded what is now considered one of the seminal albums of mid-’60s jazz—Smokin’ At The Half Note—together in June 1965. The combination of Kelly’s supremely fluid playing with Montgomery’s effervescent musical personality was always destined for greatness; the two genuinely completed one another in a musical sense, pairing melody and drive, warmth and flash in a partnership that flared brightly and passed into history all too quickly.

Smokin’ In Seattle: Live At The Penthousemy_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 is comprised of two unique five-song, half-hour sets; in each set, the Wynton Kelly Trio plays the first two tracks on its own before bringing Wes Montgomery out to play on the last three. All four players—the Kelly Trio at that point consisting of Kelly, fellow Miles Davis alumnus Jimmy Cobb on drums, and newly recruited bassist Ron McClure—get abundant opportunity to shine.

The four Wynton Kelly Trio numbers appear roughly in order of memorability quotient. Opening number “There Is No Greater Love” offers a dynamic showcase for Kelly’s bobbing, weaving, altogether dazzling fingerwork as he climbs and dives, swerves and jukes while the rhythm section pushes and pulls underneath. At 5:20 McClure takes a concise, dexterous bass solo, following by a sequence of breaks—seven in all—giving space for Cobb to solo briefly and sharply behind the drum kit, before a snappy finish.

“Not  A Tear” is a much more deliberate and rather lounge-y ballad, leisurely and lyrical for the first two minutes until they hit the gas, powering into an extended, rippling flight by Mr. Kelly. Opening the second set, “Sir John” finds Kelly, McClure and Cobb jamming away full tilt, letting those limber fingers fly. In the sixth minute they veer into serial solos, first bass then piano, that are smooth and suave and sprightly.

In both sets, the moment when Wes Montgomery joins the party is unmistakable. He is all over his own “Jingles” in set one, laying down flowing, tasty licks before unleashing a series of cascading, gorgeous phrases in the third minute. He is so nimble and the lines feel so supple, it’s like a sonic massage for your ears. The following “What’s New?” offers contrast, silky, sophisticated and elegant, while Montgomery swings with supreme confidence on “Blues In F,” right up until the song unfortunately fades out (damn that 30-minute limit).

In the second set, the interplay between Kelly and Montgomery on “West Coast Blues” is downright telepathic and the way they weave their lines over and under and around one another is nothing short of sublime. “O Morro Não Tem Vez” features an extended Montgomery solo in its second and third minutes that epitomizes the tone and character of his playing: classy, tasteful, elegant, sophisticated. Second-set closer “Oleo” finds Montgomery and Kelly matching stride through the intro before Montgomery starts veering off into frenetic and fanciful little side jams. The song again fades out all too soon, but what you get is tasty indeed.

Despite extensive and well-crafted liner notes, in terms of actual music, Smokin’ In Seattle is rather slight in what it ultimately offers and undoubtedly isn’t as essential as Smokin’ At The Half Note. Still, it’s an entertaining and valuable document of one of the great jazz pairings of the ’60s. Kelly and Montgomery feel made for one another: magicians of cool, maestros of elegance, masters of jazz.

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2017 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Resonance Records, and is used for informational purposes only.