Wes Montgomery's Ballad Soloing - "If You Could See Me Now"

by Wes Montgomery, as heard on Smokin' at the Half Note (1965, Verve Records)

Continuing yesterday's theme of great Wes solos, here's another from Smokin' at the Half Note that Pat Metheny once called his favorite solo of all time (click here for the article). This transcription is only a 16 bar excerpt, to get a quick glimpse into Wes's double-time ballad vocabulary. At some point, I'll likely transcribe the remainder, but there's an amazing depth to just these few bars. If you're looking to jump straight to the guitar, Wynton Kelly opens the tune, with Wes coming in around 2:56.

This analysis follows the same pattern as the last, with four sections covering the harmonic, melodic, rhythmic and sonic characteristics of Wes's playing.

Wes's blues influence is clearly articulated in this solo. Alternating I-IV7 chords provide an excellent backdrop for a variety of hard-bop-infused lines. The slow tempo allows an ample amount of space for double-time exploration of each harmonic space, and it's taken advantage of to an extreme. In real time, most of the lines beyond the first four bars are 16th-triplet- or 32nd-note-based, or faster. Thanks to the slow harmonic rhythm, there is clear distinction in every line between each chord or pair or chords, giving the tune a somewhat disjunct feeling--the most obvious examples are at mm.5-6 and mm.13-14, in the chromatically descending ii-V pairs.

Much of the material here is blues-based, with a typical line appearing just out of the gate in m.2--the rolling triplet figures are a staple of blues guitar vocabulary, and of Wes in general. There is a great deal of melodic and rhythmic repetition in this solo, with sequencing occurring frequently at the descending ii-V's mentioned above, but also at just about every other chord change available--mm.3-4 display a line that moves motivically through Abmaj-Db7, breaking down briefly then resuming the motivic movement. M.5 is a sort of theme-and-variation from the lick presented in Cmin, which is repeated then developed in Bmin7-E7. At mm.9-10, we see a blues lick developed and moved into Db7, then repeated verbatim at m.11.

Many of the same statements that described Wes's melodic approach also apply to his rhythmic approach. Sequencing is abundant, and where an idea is repeated or developed as a melody, it is also repeated or developed rhythmically. One feature of Wes's lines in this excerpt is their unique individual identities--the line in mm.1-2 is based on swing 16ths; mm.3-4 is based on 16th triplets; mm.5-6 is based on 32nd notes, and so on. The rhythmic and melodic motives are not only used as development, they are used to craft individual phrases that work together to develop the solo as a whole.

In keeping with the blues theme of this solo, Wes uses a healthy amount of triplet turns and grace notes into his figures, as well as ghost notes and several "cliche" blues licks (i.e., mm.9,11). It's worth noting that Wes plays his entire solo in a double-time, swing 16ths feel, but the rhythm section does not follow along, allowing his greater space and freedom to develop his ideas, both harmonically and rhythmically.

If you'd like to check out Ben Ratliff's full interview with Metheny, the opening page link is here.


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