Friday, November 25, 2011

Wes Montgomery Kept Movin'

The great Wes Montgomery is celebrated in a new box set, Movin’: The Complete Verve Recordings, from Verve through the Hip-O-Select, which like Verve is part of the Universal Music Group. Like other recent Hip-O-Select box sets, this comes in the form of a hard cover book which contains substantial annotations from Wall Street music journalist Marc Myers (who also does the excellent blog) along with five CDs that contain all of the substantial musical legacy that Montgomery produced for Verve, after his important, innovative and influential Riverside recordings. My only quibble with the packaging is that the pages used to contain the CDs (which contain session information) hold the CDs in a manner that makes it slightly difficult to extract and return to the sleeves the CDs without getting one’s fingerprints on the shiny side of the CD.

Myers essay is entitled Birth of the Mod, and gives and overview of Montgomery’s career with a focus on the Verve recordings. While comfortable in his hometown Indianapolis, he nevertheless became a major jazz performer through his association with the Riverside label. The death of Riverside’s Bill Grauer was eventually followed by bankruptcy. Without a record label, Montgomery signed with Verve and Creed Taylor who was one of its primary jazz producers who had been working with Jimmy Smith, Stan Getz and others. Myers details the recording of the eight albums by Montgomery on Verve which marked some of Taylor’s earliest jazz-pop experimentations and which turned the guitarist into a jazz-pop avatar to quote Myers.

With Verve, Taylor mixed recordings of jazz standards, popular numbers and show numbers often with big bands that still had Montgomery’s guitar in front. From the first moments of his initial Movin’ Wes to the collaborations with Jimmy Smith, Montgomery’s brilliant fretwork was on display. While some of his recordings like the rendition of People on the Johnny Pate arranged first album employed fadeouts like pop 45s others like his rendition of the Duke Ellington classic “Caravan” were front and center burners. And it wasn’t simply Johnny Pate. Taylor also employed Don Sebesky, Claus Ogerman and Oliver Nelson for other big band sessions.

Not to be forgotten among these big band sessions are the sessions with the Wynton Kelly Trio that included some live recordings. Jimmy Cobb, the trio’s drummer, recalls that Montgomery was somewhat uncomfortable with the commercial material, and felt the material was beneath what Montgomery was capable of. Myers explains how Montgomery, despite initially resisting such material became more comfortable with it employing the example of Going Out of My Head. After first resting the simplicity of the material, Montgomery would make a Grammy winning recording, working out stuff with Grady Tate before the recording.

Yet as the recordings with Wynton Kelly and later the collaborations with Jimmy Smith make most evident, Montgomery had matured but remained the brilliant improvisor mixing single notes chords and octaves and the best of the orchestrations simply add punch to this brilliance, but even when simply embellishing a melody as on Going Out Of My Head, his tone and note placement produced magic. When Montgomery and Smith collaborate on Down By the Riverside or Milestones with terrific Oliver Nelson charts the sparks fire. Then there are the small group sides by Smith and Montgomery with just Grady Tate and Ray Barretto on King of the Road and Baby Its Cold Outside that makes one wish these two had recorded more.

It is almost impossible to find any recording on this that doesn’t possess at least some musical magic, even the tracks with some imperfections that remained unissued at the time of recording. Of course, some of the alternates and other tracks have been subsequently reissued. Unless one has an extensive collection of the source CDs, this is a must for fans of Wes Montgomery and/or jazz guitar.

This was a purchase and I believe it would make a terrific gift for the jazz lover or guitar music lover on your gift list.

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