Album reviews

Nigel Price Organ Trio – ‘Wes Reimagined’

Nigel Price Organ Trio – Wes Reimagined

(Ubuntu Music UBU0080. Album review by Denny Ilett)

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There’s a very good reason why the music of Wes Montgomery continues to inspire guitarists some 53 years after his untimely passing. Wes’ patent blend of bebop and blues is music with a smile on its face; deceptively simple at times and flavoured with little twists and turns that render his playing, and his compositions, perpetually ‘hip’ and entirely accessible.

Wes Reimagined is an album that thoroughly ‘does what it says on the tin’ taking nine Montgomery compositions plus one standard (“I’ve Grown Accustomed To Her Face”) and giving them, to continue the analogy, a fresh coat of paint. Thus, for example, “Cariba” transitions from its original latin/blues groove into the sort of lazy-but-tight shuffle that James Brown would’ve been proud of. The hard-driving swing of Wes’ “Jingles” is presented here as a luscious, summery excursion into latin territory. A tune that could sum up Wes’ whole approach to music, “Twisted Blues”, receives a boogaloo treatment of the kind that followed in Wes’ wake with the likes of George Benson or Grant Green. You get the picture. Each piece settles so comfortably into its new setting that one could be forgiven for thinking they were written this way.

Guitarist Nigel Price leads an all-star cast through these 10 tracks with enough of a nod to the genius of Wes Montgomery whilst resisting any urge to step into Wes’ shoes. This isn’t a ‘tribute’ band, after all. Most guitarists will be so familiar with Wes’ versions of these tunes that it’s no mean feat to record them without subconsciously ‘quoting’ from the original solos; such was their melodic and harmonic strength. Yet, despite the fact Nigel has always worn his Wes influence firmly on his sleeve, he tackles each composition with his own customary flair and the set is all the better for it.

Although billed as the Nigel Price Organ Trio (with Ross Stanley, organ and Joel Barford, drums) there is ample room given to guest saxophonists Vasilis Xenopoulos and Tony Kofi, with percussion supplied by Snowboy. On three tracks the group is augmented further with the inclusion of a beautiful string quartet arranged by Callum Au and featuring Kay Stephen, Anna Brigham, Elitsa Bogdanova and Chris Terepin. This particular nod to Wes’ later recordings, so derided by critics at the time, ought to help toward a re-evaluation of where Montgomery was, musically, in the late 60’s.

It’s almost redundant to comment on how well the group plays on this record. Each is a well-established and well-respected individual yet, what really stands out is the way the group, as a whole, creates such a feeling of warmth, joy and cohesion. No one stands out more than the entirety does. The overriding impression is that of an ensemble effort laden with love and respect for each other; and for Wes Montgomery. To this end, it’s an album that doesn’t require a ‘stand-out’ track. It’s as a suite that this album really excels and Nigel has programmed it perfectly. By the time one reaches the final track “I’ve Grown Accustomed To Her Face”, there’s the feeling of an hour spent in the company of people with kind, soulful and giving hearts.

For me, this is how jazz should be; communicative and inclusive. Jazz performed this way feels like a gift, a ‘here, this is for you’ scenario. Louis Armstrong said that jam sessions, in the early days, were a place “where we would just see how beautiful we could make the music”. Whether Price and his friends were aware of this when they entered the studio, I don’t know but, it certainly seems that way.

Wes Reimagined is released on Ubuntu Music on 4 June

LINKS: Nigel Price on Bandcamp

Nigel Price Organ Trio at Ubuntu Music

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