Album review

Nelson Riveros ‘The Latin Side of Wes Montgomery’

Nelson Riveros The Latin Side of Wes Montgomery

(Zoho ZM202103. Album Review by Peter Jones)

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It was a simple idea: why not record some old Wes Montgomery favourites and do them all in latin style? After all, Wes’s tunes are very often groove-based, lending themselves to a variety of rhythmic treatments. And it works beautifully. Road Song, for example, was originally a bossa, sweetened with a horn section, from the last album Wes ever recorded (there were also several posthumous releases). Guitarist and band-leader Nelson Riveros has simply slowed the tune down a little and tweaked it into a cha-cha. His tone is brighter and twinklier than Wes Montgomery’s, with a lot of fleeting little runs and accents. Here, instead of horns he has Hector Martignon’s piano to play off.

Bass players may take issue with this, but the bass solo is often the place where a tune grinds to a temporary halt, and the energy is lost. On Tear it Down, however, Andy McKee’s bass solo is driven along smartly thanks to percussionist Jonathan Gomez, whose playing lifts the whole enterprise. Four on Six, one of Montgomery’s best-known tunes, started life as a mid tempo swing number. The title has been interpreted by some to refer to a 4/4 rhythm superimposed on a 6/8 rhythm. But you’d be hard-put to hear that going on in the tune. Others have speculated that it means four fingers playing six strings. However Wes famously used his thumb, and so the mystery remains. Riveros normally uses a pick, by the way, or sometimes a clawhammer style. Here, he turns the tune into a Cuban tumbao.

The fifth member of the combo on this album is drummer Mark Walker (not, in case you were wondering, the same Mark Walker as the current presenter of Jazz FM’s Dinner Jazz). Walker’s calm presence in the midst of rhythmic complexity is particularly evident on Wes’ Tune, on which (I am told) the beats on the intro are a mixture of afoxé and biao, while Riveros’s own Nelson’s Groove is based on a Columbian porro. Don’t say you haven’t been told.

The original version of West Coast Blues was, of course, a jazz waltz. Riveros turns it into a joropo, a rhythmic style from Venezuela and Columbia. The band plays like a well-oiled machine throughout the album, but most notably on its version of Jingles, which is the sound of five virtuosos at the top of their game. Wes’s composition was never for cissies in the first place, with a highly syncopated intro and then a punishing upswing workout. Riveros adds an intro on top of the original intro, Martignon throws in a quick montuno, and when they get to the blowing section, they show how well they can swing, with exhilarating solos from piano, guitar and drums/percussion. We catch our breath, or try to, with Riveros’s second composition Facing Wes, a piece written in multiple time signatures, with some suitably Montgomery-style octave soloing from Riveros. The album closes with a sweet contrast: the guitarist switches to a nylon-string instrument to play a one-chorus solo version of Leila from the 1960 album Montgomeryland, which Wes recorded with his brothers Buddy and Monk.

LINK: The Latin Side of Wes Montgomery on Bandcamp

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