Feedback Loop - Monk Montgomery - It's Never Too Late - Motown/Chisa Records  

Released in 1969, Monk Montgomery decided it was time for the bass guitar to come to the front of the ensemble and play the role of lead instrument. Joined by a large ensemble formed around a core of Jazz Crusaders, Montgomery’s thick bass sound takes the listener through a journey of swing jazz, Philadelphia soul and African grooves.  

The album opens with Big Boy. A swinging 12-bar blues which sees Montgomery take a lengthy solo. Throughout the album, Montgomery’s bass sits right at the front of the mix. His bass tone is round and full. The combination of his right hand technique, flat wound strings and his regular use of legato techniques gives the instrument a fretless sound at times. He slides in and out of notes with ease. This may be been a way for him to emulate the sound of the upright bass which was one of his initial goals with the new instrument. The presence of synthesised bass allows Montgomery to leave space in his solo lines and let them breathe.  

Although this album, Monk’s debut as leader, has a strong roster of jazz musicians, many of the tracks are given a pop arrangement. Sunday Stroll is a straight-feel composition with a soulful core.  Montgomery plays the melody line over a light backing played by flutes and strings. There are no improvised solos. This follows the career trajectory of Monk’s younger brother Wes who went on to record a number of albums aimed at a wider market.  

Can We Talk To You? is a sunshine pop composition with a wholesome heart accentuated by the string arrangement. Montgomery adds a bluesy touch by bending notes as the piece moves in a funkier direction. This is followed by Your Love which is driven along by 16th note hi-hat patterns.  

A Place In The Sun opens with a short rendition of the melody on unaccompanied bass. Montgomery creates more legato effects by hammering on and pulling off notes. Throughout the album, the leader takes phrases and repeats them as a solo hook. They are often built around pentatonic scales, suiting the harmonically static material.  

The slow moving melody of It’s Never Too Late is played in unison with the keyboard. A bass ostinato continues relentlessly underneath. Tension builds in the middle section as the ensemble crescendo through a passage of quavers. Montgomery begins to use double stops in his lines which brings another dimension to his improvisation.  

Arranged by trumpet player and record label owner Hugh Masakela, The Lady has a distinctive South African feel. This is another performance with a pop-like commercial feel. Montgomery does include an occasional blues lick in to the otherwise diatonic lines.  

The album features two jazz standard compositions. Montgomery plays the melody of Toots Thielman’s Bluesette. He continues into an improvised solo which contains more traditional jazz language than he uses elsewhere on the album. How High The Moon is given a slow grooving straight feel. The piece does burst out in to swing with Montgomery playing bass lines (a rarity on the album). Over this, the woodwind play the melody of Ornithology, Charlie Parker’s popular contrafact. This is the only piece on the album where anyone other than Montgomery is featured as a soloist. Even when playing an accompanying role, Montgomery’s bass remains at the front of the mix and he spends much of his time playing in the high register.  

It’s Never Too Late would set the trajectory of Montgomery’s solo output for the next few years. The double bass had been used as a featured instrument in jazz music. Most notably on Paul Chambers’ Blue Note album Bass On Top. Using the bass guitar in this manner was unusual at the time and would preempt Jaco Pastorius’ more famous example by 6 years.  

John Marley

The Record Store - Pitch 22 - York  

York has always been a stronghold for independent record stores in the North of England. Residents of the city will become dewey eyed and nostalgic when you mention Track Records, Red Rhino, Ark Records, Wild Cat, Inkwell or Hellraiser.  Shops that have supplied the general public’s insatiable musical drug habit in the pre and post internet age. 

Residents of many regions can barely locate one pale skinned vinyl dealer to hold off the shakes. The people of York are comparatively spoilt for choice as a fourth independent record shop has popped up on the outskirts of the city. 

Location tells a tale about the difficulties that face brave and passionate vinyl entrepreneurs. One of York’s record havens is tiny (and has all the more character because of it) and two have chosen to set up shop outside of the city centre in order to keep expenses at a minimum. These would appear to be smart business moves as the three senior record shops have been open several years. No small achievement in an ever changing digital world. 

Pitch 22 caught this writers attention as he drove around the city on the inner ring road. An illuminated location for a shop wanting to avoid the high rents inside the city walls while remaining visible. The words Records Books Art stood out like a beacon, glowing amongst the bleak landscape of Ford Fiestas and Transit vans. 

Those who are planning a pilgrimage to this holy site of art and culture be warned that it is only open from Wednesday until Saturday from 10am-4pm. For visitors taking a day trip to the city, Pitch 22 is only a 10 minute walk from the city centre but it would be a disappointing journey to a locked door. 

Records Books Art is an accurate description but due to the size of the shop, the selection is, well, select. The records are centrally located in a manner of controlled chaos. Stock is roughly arranged by genre or price although the lack of labelling creates enough tantalising unknowns for hardened crate diggers. Frustration could ensue in a bigger shop but Pitch 22 is cosy enough that an efficient vinyl archeologist can have the excavation work done in 15 minutes. 

After having politely asked what genre wet my particular musical palette, the owner kindly grabbed a trowel and dug on my behalf, finding every scrap of jazz vinyl from the bargain crates for my perusal. This was a worthwhile endeavour as he sold a stack of it at a very reasonable price, along with an irresistible copy of Crescendo International magazine from 1975 for a very reasonable £2. 

Art adorns the walls over a selection of books which are primarily focused on music, modern art, poetry and academia. There is a broad range of content in the music section, covering topics from classical history to amplifier construction and Kirk Hammett guitar transcriptions. Stacks of vintage magazines provide a cheap hit of nostalgia to keep you longing for the glory days of analogue and mullets. 

One of the beautiful things about independent record stores is the personal attention that is lacking from the majority of modern commerce. My visit led to a pleasant conversation about records and education with a promise from the proprietor to contact me if a much sought after record appeared on his racks. A promise rarely given in the faceless world of the internet, or one not believed without eye to eye contact. Make Pitch 22 a destination on your tour of York’s record stores. 

John Marley.

The Record Store - Sound It Out - Stockton On Tees  

People succumb to the weight of the post-festive world like a national flu epidemic. Grey skies weigh on the spirit and over indulgence weighs on the gut. Attempts to fight off the bug appear in easily abandoned exercise regimes and alcohol abstinence. Great for social media gloating, disaster for struggling pub landlords. 

Instead of treating January as a painful endurance test, perhaps we can embrace it and find its hidden qualities. The streets are quieter, parking is easier and retailers are practically craving our attendance. Go to any smaller British town on a cold and overcast day and you’ll find an atmosphere that can be a comforting, post-Christmas reality check. Everything is coloured like a faded childhood photograph. 

Stockton-on-Tees is a market town in the north east that fills some easily spouted stereotypes. Charity shops dominate the high street, small businesses are housed in post-industrial shells and the market is still an important, reasonably priced supply line for the local community. The people are noticeably chatty. If you walk in to a shop, there’s a good chance you’ll get a conversation with the proprietor. Not a pushy sales pitch, just a friendly chinwag. 

Sound It Out Records is one of the independent business that are so important to the economy of such towns. They may not be turning over millions each year but they attract people like myself to places we might have not considered going otherwise. 

Situated on a small street, next to a boxing academy and across from a cheap and cheerful pub, Sound It Out is a vinyl lovers paradise. The shop was the subject of a fascinating documentary film by Jeanie Finlay. Released in 2011, the film not only told the story of the shop and its owners, it gave a loving and respectful account of the customers and their home town. 

Sound It Out prioritises vinyl over other formats. There is a small section of CDs but in order to maximise room for stock, they no longer provide cases. This is a minor inconvenience but an acceptable sacrifice for the massive selection of vinyl. Most genres are well represented. They have a large amount of jazz, soul, indie, punk and metal records. 

Where Sound It Out really stands out is in its embrace of the 7” record. Many record shops completely ignore the format. Perhaps seeing it as unprofitable, the 7” is not as attractive sitting on a shelf as a shiny gatefold LP with full colour artwork. The fact that Sound It Out stocks 7” records tells its own story. Catering for music lovers and serious collectors, the shop attracts dedicated regular customers who make music a large part of their life. It is not just a shop for young professionals who feel like they should have a Joy Division album on vinyl for their Instagram profile. 

If you plan to visit the shop, put some time aside and take it slowly. The racks are bursting with thousands of records and the staff are happy to chat and offer assistance. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, I’m convinced they would do their best to find it for you. 

Live music in record shops is becoming a thing of the past. In-store performances used to be a way for the artist and fan to meet and connect, giving the listener a unique attachment to the music. Sound It Out are holding the fort in this respect. I’m yet to attend one of their in-store shows but it’s sitting anxiously on my to-do list. 

Go out, embrace the winter weather, feel a chill, rush into the warmth of the record shop and you’ll surely feel the benefit. 

John Marley.

Feedback Loop - Monk Montgomery - Bass Odyssey - Motown/Chisa Records  

Released in 1971, Monk Montgomery’s second album as leader took him in new directions. On Bass Odyssey, the electric bass pioneer sat on top of the mix and came to the fore as both performer and composer. Joined by members of The Crusaders, the band created a fuzz-laden, groove heavy trip into the world of jazz psychedelia. 

Journey To The Bottom is an appropriate title for a track with two bass players. Double bassist Andy Simpkins steadies the band from the bottom up while Montgomery takes the lead. The harmony is predominantly static although it briefly moves through a chord cycle which is emphasised by Montgomery’s melodic outlining. A riff-like melody is the focal point of this, and many of the compositions on the album. Montgomery’s solo becomes increasingly frantic as he utilises his pick to produce explosive flurries. Drama builds behind him which is essential when the solos are taken over one tonality. Due to the sound of the fender bass with flat wound strings, the use of double stops doesn't bring a great deal of colour to the sound. It brings a heaviness and a subtle rhythmic impact. Joe Sample’s electric piano solo uses motivic development and off-beat stabbing to keep the energy levels high. 

Personage is a relaxed bossa nova with longer and more fluid lines from the leader. The piece is spacious as Montgomery is the only bass player and spends much of the performance playing the lead role. He draws a singing quality from his bass by sliding from position to position. His use of legato gives the Fender bass a melodic quality which is wasn’t associated with up to this point. The whole performance is a showcase for Montgomery’s lead playing. His solo lines are predominantly diatonic to the key although he does adopt chromaticism and uses the blues scale on moments of minor harmony. The band bring the piece to a close with a cross rhythm, playing powerful hits grouped in threes. 

Montgomery plays a soulful melody over the descending chord sequence of Sister Lena. Beautiful in its simplicity, drummer Nesbert Hooper drives the groove along. He catches hits in the melody and fills musical breaks with gentle rolls around the toms. The beat itself is a simple soul rhythm where tasteful embellishment attracts the ear to the performance. 

On Fuselage, Pt. 1, Montgomery uses a fuzz tone on the bass to play a four note melodic riff. The ensemble sit on a forceful minor groove that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Led Zeppelin album. The riff is broken up by a suspended chord which builds the tension before the release back into the main groove. Fuselage, Pt. 2 has a more experimental edge. A wall of distorted sound is created by the onslaught of frantic, fuzzed out bass exploration. Rather than being a frame for solo improvisation, the composition remains a rock-influenced infectious groove. 

Foxy Gypsy opens with a solo bass cadenza over a backdrop of colourful percussion and spacious electric piano. Montgomery’s use of harmonic minor trilling evokes Eastern images. When the four chord minor groove begins, Montgomery takes an extended solo. He continues to use legato techniques as well as double stops and extended rhythmic development. Another cadenza concludes proceedings with the leader sliding emphatically up and down the neck. 

Monk Montgomery continued to play more traditional forms of jazz and helped to encourage its performance through the Las Vegas Jazz Society. However, he was not afraid to experiment with his instrument, fusing jazz harmony with rock riffing, funk grooves and soulful melodies. Bass Odyssey was a large step forward for Montgomery as a unique but sadly overlooked voice on the bass guitar. 

John Marley

A Beginner’s Guide To Noisecore 

Noisecore is a musical endgame. Displaying an unrivalled level of nihilism, this is a style of music which takes elements of punk, metal, jazz and free improvisation and compacts them into highly charged sonic bullets.  

The genesis of the genre lays in the hardcore punk scene which took traditional song form and turbocharged it. This culminated in Napalm Death’s scathing masterwork Scum. Released in 1987, the album combined impassioned political commentary with memorable riffing and blasts of noise which enter the eardrum like an ice pick.  

One track in particular resonated with audiences ears, albeit not for very long. Clocking in at around 1 second, You Suffer disregarded all rules of form, length and structure. During the late 80’s, fellow British grinders Sore Throat, Intense Degree and Extreme Noise Terror also produced memorable slabs of distorted wax. Championed by Radio One DJ John Peel, the grindcore genre received an unprecedented level of public attention.  

Several bands would take this blueprint and use it to build a new, even more obscure form of music. Lärm from the Netherlands had been adopting this short and fast formula from the early 80’s. Anal Cunt and the Meat Shits from the USA and Seven Minutes Of Nausea from Australia would play with the genre, each creating unique aural identities.  

You may wonder how much personality can be packed into a 2 second blast of noise. Although many of the tracks may be sub-atomic in size, the particles create a solid form which is as full of character as the individuals who create them.  

Held in high esteem in the noisecore world, Anal Cunt began cramming as many tracks as humanly possible on to a 7” platter. The 5643 Song EP took layers of hard grinding noise and layered them on top of one another, creating a hypnotically nihilistic collage. The band went on to use more identifiable riffage, finding the extremes edges in their deliberately antagonistic lyrical content.  

The Meat Shits followed a similar musical approach to Anal Cunt (albeit with a drum machine) but focused on extreme sexual imagery. One of their contributions to the genre was a heavy use of movie samples, often chosen for their humour as much as their controversial content.  

More bands stayed true to the initial blueprint and followed a line of left-leaning political commentary. This was, and remains to be true in the Brazilian scene. Bands like Noise and Industrial Holocaust use an unpretentious lo-fi philosophy to create fascinatingly bleak releases which ooze mystery and rage.  

The DIY production values of many noisecore bands, along with the heavy emphasis on freely improvised music allows them to have prolific outputs. Many bands have discography’s which stretch into the hundreds. Canada’s Deche-Charge being one notable example.  

The age of digital media has penetrated and manipulated most musical genres, finding new audiences and moving people away from physical products. Noisecore has remained relatively immune to this. While grindcore and hardcore punk attract millions of listeners around the world, noisecore has remained steadfastly underground. Bands clutch on to the cassette format and trade releases as though the last 30 years never happened.  

New bands continue to arrive and shred the ears of younger audiences. Japan’s Sete Star Sept being one of the most active bands currently in the genre.  

Delving in to the world of noisecore cannot be done by clicking a few buttons or loading up Spotify. It demands patience, curiosity and dedication, but it will deliver a whole new world of sounds which will test your tolerance and prejudices. Sometimes humorous, often dark…Noisecore exists like a musical Chernobyl. A place which many find fascinating but refuse to enter.  

10 Noisecore Releases To Check Out (If You Can Find Them) -  

Sore Throat - Disgrace To The Corpse Of Sid   
Anal Cunt - The Early Years  
Meat Shits - Bowel Rot  
7 Minutes Of Nausea - Cancelled  
Noise - Demo Tapes 1991-1995  
Nihilist Commando - Noisecore Violations 2002-2008  
Beip - I Like Penis  
Deche-Charge - Disgrace To The Corpse Of Seth   
Industrial Holocaust - The Holocaust Continues  
Lärm - Extreme Noise 

John Marley

 

Monk Montgomery - The First Pioneer of Electric Bass  

The Montgomery family name is well established in jazz history due to the musical accomplishments of Wes, perhaps the most influential jazz guitarist of his era. Yet the legacy of the Montgomery name stretches further. Buddy Montgomery, one of Wes’ brothers, was an accomplished pianist and vibraphonist who recorded with Johnny Griffin, George Shearing and Charlie Rouse.  

The name of Monk Montgomery may be unfamiliar to many jazz fans, yet his story is fascinating though largely untold. Monk was the first to hand his younger brother Wes a guitar when he was approximately 11 years old. Monk himself did not take up the double bass until he was 28 years old, almost unheard of for such a proficient jazz musician. After practising for a couple of years, Monk found himself in the orchestra of Lionel Hampton.  

It was Hampton who first encouraged Monk to switch to the new electric bass which was made popular by instrument maker Leo Fender. Monk told Guitar Player Magazine “Hamp handed me the Fender and told me he wanted the electric instrument sound in the band. The electric bass was considered a bastard Instrument. Conventional bass players despised it. It was new and a threat to what they new…At first I freaked out, because I was in love with my upright bass…(but) I made up my mind to do it and did it well”   

Monk Montgomery was not only one of the first to tour with the new Fender Precision bass, but he is believed by many to be the first to record with the instrument. The record date took place on July 2nd 1953 and was released as The Art Farmer Septet. All of the musicians on the date (aside from drummer Sonny Johnson) were members of Hampton’s orchestra. On this recording, Montgomery successfully eased the new instrument into jazz by emulating the sound of the double bass. Playing the instrument with his thumb, Monk produced a warm round tone which suited the cool swing and latin groove based compositions on the album.  

Being one of the first musicians to adopt the Fender bass, Monk had no influences on the instrument. This allowed him to adapt his style throughout his career. Although the use of the thumb produces an appealing sound, it can be technically limiting. Monk dealt with this problem by creating his own plectrums made of felt. This allowed a greater playing speed while maintaining the soft attack.  

Monk Montgomery would continue to have an extensive career as a sideman and bandleader, recording with his brothers, Hampton Hawes, Hugh Masekela and Kenny Burrell amongst others. Yet he continued to break new ground on a series of albums released under his own name. His first solo album entitled It’s Never Too Late was released in 1969 and features members of The Crusaders. On the album, Monk plays a style of lead bass guitar which wouldn’t achieve widespread acceptance until Jaco Pastorius burst on to the scene some 6 years later.  

Monk Montgomery came into his own as a leader on his 1971 release Bass Odyssey. Not only does he continue his vision of a lead bass sound, but he develops it even further, introducing fuzz effects and tremolo picking. The album also features double bassists Andy Simpkins & Kent Brinkley, allowing Monk to focus on his role at the forefront of the music. The music is infectious soul jazz with a notable contribution from keyboard player Joe Sample. The record, like most of Monk’s solo output, remains out of print.  

Monk Montgomery’s influence in jazz should not be underestimated. Not only did he introduce the Fender Bass to the genre, but he gave it a unique and credible voice through his sensitive accompaniments and memorable solo albums. He was also an early pioneer of playing the instrument with a plectrum, a style of playing which is still rare amongst jazz bassists (Steve Swallow and Carol Kaye being two other notable plectrum users).  

Despite this, Monk Montgomery remains largely unknown and unmentioned not just in jazz circles but also in the world of bass guitar. Many of his albums are out of print, as is his in-depth and extensive 1978 bass tuition book. In the internet age, Monk Montgomery’s playing may not contain enough fireworks to be featured on bass guitar websites but his legacy deserves acknowledgement and his music deserves to be re-examined in the modern age.  

John Marley.