The plus side of the fine new archival release from Grammy award winning jazz label Resonance Records is that for the first time most of us are getting to hear some incredibly high quality, pre-fame recordings by influential guitar icon Wes Montgomery. Wes Montgomery's Back on Indiana Avenue: The Carroll DeCamp Recordings were made before Wes's ascension to international fame, probably in the mid 1950s. Not much is known about the original productions but the important thing is that along the way someone convinced Mr. DeCamp to preserve the tapes...
And after a fire later engulfed DeCamp's home, those safety copies are all that remain. But what remains they are!
Here you get to hear the great guitarist ascending, just before his seminal releases on Riverside Records including terrific versions of songs like Thelonious Monk's "Round Midnight." His band is swinging and the sound is remarkably quiet and clear; for recordings probably made on some sort of reel to reel tape machine of the period, there is very little in the way of tape hiss or distortion.
Everything is in Monaural, but the sound stages are generally quite wonderful and full bodied. The performances are exemplary and for anyone who has only heard Wes' later period near-pop proto-smooth-jazz recordings, this is the kind of fire-y stuff he built his reputation on. Some of the music here was formally recorded later in Wes' career, so its neat being a fly on the wall hearing the evolution of his sound.
The band is pretty much "on" all the time throughout Wes Montgomery's Back on Indiana Avenue: The Carroll DeCamp Recordings -- there is a fair amount of smoke captured here! Of the two discs, the first one has the best sound with a very upfront but natural band sound capturing some of the air of the room they were playing in. Nothing is known as to the exact location and personnel on these recordings but there are educated guesses which are all explained in the comprehensive liner notes including interviews with legendary guitarists George Benson and John Scofield.
There is only one downside of this release which may be a determinant for some of you, Dear Readers, as to whether you spring for the two LP version of Wes Montgomery's Back on Indiana Avenue: The Carroll DeCamp Recordings (which was pressed lovingly at RTI and mastered with care by the legendary Bernie Grundman) or just go for the CD version. You see, it turns out that these recordings were sourced from those lone surviving safety copy tapes which were preserved on Digital Audio Tape (DAT).
Now, DAT was a great format for its time providing one to two hours of recording without having to flip the tape like you would on a cassette or reel to reel. DAT, unfortunately, is a format pretty much locked digitally in the 16-bit realm; I confirmed with the album's producers that indeed a 16-bit, 44.1 kHz DAT was used to make this album.
The upside of DAT for an archival release like this is that it pretty much makes a generation free copy of the original music. And given the time period these original recordings were made, the DAT format may have been well more than enough to capture and preserve all that was on those original analog tapes.
The vinyl version of Wes Montgomery's Back on Indiana Avenue: The Carroll DeCamp Recordings sounds really good as does the CD but there is a difference. This slight variance in sound I noticed may well be due to a combination of Bernie Grundman's sympathetic LP disc mastering versus the limitations in the audio chips on my older Oppo Universal player. The Goldring 2400 cartridge on my Music Hall MMF 7.1 turntable run through a Bellari tube preamp may be treating this music more kindly than the CD played through my trusty old Oppo.
Tube-driven playback of records can warm the music up significantly. So if you prefer hearing your music via your turntable, the two-LP vinyl version of Wes Montgomery's Back on Indiana Avenue: The Carroll DeCamp Recordings may be the best way for you to go. The vinyl's packaging is lovely with a full LP sized booklet and copious liner notes and such. The 180-gram LPs, pressed at RTI, come housed in audiophile grade plastic inner sleeves, so it really is a deluxe package.The CD version (click here to jump to it on Amazon) is almost equally deluxe, albeit scaled down for the smaller format.
Whichever version you decide to get, Wes Montgomery's Back on Indiana Avenue: The Carroll DeCamp Recordings is an essential for fans of this influential guitar legend.