Song: “Four On Six”
Artist: Wes Montgomery
Album: Impressions (1965)
Wes Montgomery is just as much ‘Jazz God’ as Coltrane, Miles Davis, Thelonius Monk, and all the genre’s other ’50s/’60s essentials…though perhaps less often credited as so. By 1965, jazz’ turn to spicier, South American-flavored sounds and fidgety tempos had diminished the popularity of slow, softer standards like Dave Brubeck and Charlie Parker–some of the top producers of the sensual, scratchy mystique that set the matrix for mellow ’50s jazz facility.
Everyone–at least those desiring to stay relevant–had to adapt to this fresh, unrestrained movement. Miles Davis kicked it up a notch with his trumpet; as did vibraphonist Gary Burton. Even John Coltrane underwent a sound transformation; a wild and piquant metamorphosis divides the starkly different My Favorite Things (1961) from the radically revved-up, avant-garde showpiece A Love Supreme (1965). In just a couple years–under what was the best peer pressure–the sprawling genre’s artists rebooted their sound, melodies, and self-expression.
As for Wes Montgomery and his jazz guitar, the new-decade adaptation was seamless; the artist’s comfort with music’s newly developed demand for edgier output seeped through all his live performance LPs, from Full House in ’62 to Impressions in ’65. The latter, however, is one of the most concrete forms of evidence that he might have had this free-jazz knack all along.
Impressions, Montgomery’s outgoing, live-in-Paris performance and hard-bop exposition, kicks off with “Four On Six”. A jaunty percussion sequence serves as the foundation for Wes’ fleeting, octave-pressing technique. His playing, no matter how many times you repeat it, sounds slippery and elusive–and the moment one sublime chord starts to soak in, his fingers slide to the next. The track–by jazz standards, a brief one, features some of the best 6 minutes and 30 seconds of Wes Montgomery-guitar raptness.