Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Wes Montgomery: Talkin' Verve (1996)

I'll see your Jimmy Smith and raise you Wes Montgomery, says the suave man in sunglasses sitting across the green baize from me. His accent places him somewhere on the Jersey side of Philadelphia, and his gold polyester shirt with the big winged collar and brown racehorse print looks suspiciously familiar. He takes a drag from his Chesterfield King and I look down at my cards...

This one I'm in a little better position to evaluate. I have another disc of Montgomery's Verve years, his installment in the Finest Hour series. Up 'til now I've thought that one of the distinctions of the Talkin' Verve series was that it didn't shy away from, but in fact embraced, the poppier, lighter side of its artists' output. It includes the schlock, in other words. But in Wes's case the Talkin' volume focuses a lot more on his straight jazz side than the other disc does; "Tequila" is really the only example of his Top-40-oriented stuff here. The rest is just good classic Wes groove: always cool, even when it cooks.

Wes Montgomery is one of those guys who invented an entire genre of music which very rapidly got away from him, through no fault of his own. He's the granddaddy of the smooth jazz thing that sneaks out of the air-vents in hotel lobbies to put you to sleep so it can poison you in your sleep. That mellow guitar, those ferny congas. But you can't blame Wes for it, because in his hands it really is cool. He manages to make it sound mod and minimal and taut, whereas everybody who does that now is just baggy.

Wes Montgomery is just as essential to any record collection as Jimmy Smith is, and I don't make that connection (for the second time, no less) lightly, because their collaborations are the highlight of both of their respective stays at Verve. This disc includes three more key examples, including the deathless "Night Train."

Good Lord, sometimes I don't know why anybody ever listens to anything besides jazz.

(I said sometimes.)

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