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Fluid, fast, and fun: Mike Rud invokes Wes Montgomery at Brookstreet (review)

Wes Montgomery Tribute
with Mike Rud, Michel Delage, Alex Bilodeau, and Peter Hum
Options Jazz Lounge, Brookstreet Hotel
Saturday, June 10, 2017 – 8 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

Fluid guitar, bright piano, propulsive bass and drums, and overall high energy: that's what the audience enjoyed Saturday in a tribute to guitarist and composer Wes Montgomery at Brookstreet.

Guitarist Mike Rud gave a vibrant performance of classic numbers by Wes Montgomery at Brookstreet, including duets with pianist Peter Hum ©Brett Delmage, 2017

Montgomery has been a long-time jazz hero to Montreal guitarist Mike Rud [Read the OttawaJazzScene.ca interview with Rud about this show], and he communicated that enthusiasm for Montgomery's repertoire to both his bandmates and those listening. The quartet played a good selection of well-known pieces by Montgomery, plus standards in the same style.

From the first few notes of the first set, there was a distinctive style evident in the music: fast but not flashy, accomplished and almost inevitable in the way one note followed the next. The songs felt polished to a fine sheen, logically consistent and carefully put together for maximum impact.

Overall, it had a strong early 60s vibe – in Montgomery's heyday – in the mode of the playing and the material: sophisticated and well-finished. And did I mention fast? Most of the pieces were really fast.

The quartet opened with Montgomery's vigorous “Unit 7”, speedy and inviting, and continued with the evocative ballad, “Here's That Rainy Day”. In both pieces, Rud and pianist Peter Hum demonstrated a comfortable collaboration, the lead easily flowing from one to the other as each explored and embroidered the melody.

“Fried Pies” is a Montgomery classic and the quartet fully savored its strong opening riff, with drum accents by Michel Delage. Hum contributed ebullient rivers of piano notes while Rud developed the melody on fluid guitar.

Two Duke Ellington pieces – “Cotton Tail” and “Satin Doll” – were a study in contrasts: the first an exercise in accelerated and pointillist guitar and vibrating notes with an echoing drum solo taking up the same rhythm; the second featuring long, satiny guitar lines, lovingly aligned, a warm bass solo from Alex Bilodeau, and a fine swing feel.

Montgomery's “Jingles” was a joyous, upbeat piece, featuring a memorable guitar riff which Rud repeated and expanded in variations, and an extended syncopated piano solo from Hum. I particularly enjoyed “The West Coast Blues”, another Montgomery classic, a slinky blues with another insinuating riff which inspired very intense performances from all, flowing very naturally among the musicians.

The quartet really hit their stride, though, with the second set. They opened with Montgomery's “Road Song”, with accented and rhythmic guitar and piano over a strong forward momentum on bass and drums, and featuring an insistent bass solo. Near the end, Rud's guitar playing exploded into a flurry of rapid notes before returning to the initial riff and ending with a long bluesy note.

Thelonious Monk's “Round Midnight” was known as a show-stopper for Montgomery and it was a show-stopper for Rud too. He opened with a quiet and thoughtful exploration of notes and then began the song's theme, very intense ye smooth, with a rich and rounded sound. Hum's piano solo was a brighter contrast, but both reached for the melancholy in the music, touching me with its beauty.

The ballad “Come Rain or Come Shine” was accelerated and accented, but with heart and lots of swing. Fast, light drumming from Delage sustained its energy, while Rud floated a stream of fine guitar notes over top and Hum contributed a percussive piano solo. Near the end Rud and Delage traded fours with short bursts of fast playing from each, before ending with a last rat-a-tat on drums. The audience again responded with strong applause, as they did for almost everything in this set.

Rud said that Montgomery's “SOS” was an intimidating piece – no surprise given its double-time speed – but everything fit smoothly together in the quartet's version. Think Charlie Parker on guitar, and you'll get a feel of its virtuosic and propulsive style, and its bright and happy feel.

Rud described “Four on Six” as one of Wes Montgomery's great tunes. The quartet's version featured constantly shifting guitar patterns over a driving piano/bass/drums rhythm. Dense and complex – with guitar and piano lines flowing by so fast you couldn't necessarily catch everything – at the same time it had an upbeat feel. Near the end, Rud finally gradually slowed down, ending the piece with light, fairy-like strums on guitar.

The third set was devoted to repeats of several of Montgomery's best tunes, including “SOS”, “Jingles”, and “West Coast Blues” – allowing the musicians to try some different takes on the music and showing that these numbers could sound excellent the second time round.

The show was a good introduction to Montgomery's music, with fine and highly attuned performances from the quartet. The musicians immersed themselves in the music, giving each song a full, but not over-stretched rendition, and keeping the music lively for the entire show. We left a little before midnight feeling energized and glad to have made the effort to attend.

Besides Friday and Saturday evenings at Brookstreet, the band also performed this material Sunday afternoon at the Record Centre in Hintonburg, and will play it on Tuesday in Montreal at the Upstairs Club, as a trio without Hum.

    – Alayne McGregor

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

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