Album Reviews: Concord’s “Very Best Of” Jazz Collections, Part 1

The Very Best of Wes Montgomery
Among rock fans, the phrase “tasteful playing” approaches the realm of fighting words. But when one realizes, as liner notes essayist Neil Tesser suggests in his liner notes for The Very Best of Wes Montgomery, when you’ve influenced Jimi Hendrix and Pat Metheny, you’re worth another listen, regardless. And while Tesser is perhaps a bit too kind in his assessment of Wes Mongtomery‘s later work (leaning toward easy listening, that material is not included on this set), his essay does a wonderful job of arguing for Montgomery’s massive reputation. The Very Best Of covers a period of only forty-odd months (his time on Riverside), but for those interested in learning more about him (and make no mistake – it is neophytes for whom this set is designed), this is the music to hear. From the ear candy of “Canadian Sunset” to the subtle swing of “Besame Mucho” (with Mel Rhyne‘s gurgling B3 a likely influence on Brian Auger) to the exotic sounds of “Delilah” featuring thrilling vibes work from Milt Jackson, it’s clear that Montgomery was equal parts virtuoso and team player. When the song calls for Montgomery to solo, he brings his warm, soft tones forward; his playing is the antithesis of the stinging leads one finds in rock, yet somehow it possesses power equal to the most soaring rock solo work. And on “Four on Six” Montgomery takes off, leading the band for heights previously unexplored. A tidy distillation of the guitarist’s eight-album run on Riverside, The Very Best of Wes Montgomery will draw intrepid listeners into his musical world.

The Very Best of the Miles Davis Quintet
It was quite recently – 2011, in fact – that Concord released The Definitive Miles Davis on Prestige. That 2CD set covered Miles Davis‘ work during the period 1951-56, and drew from eight or nine albums, most of which were released under Davis’ name, or as releases from his Allstars or Quintet. The Very Best of the Miles Davis Quintet confines itself to an even narrower time frame, and picks from six records. Amazingly – or not amazingly, if you’re familiar with the breadth and depth of Davis’ 1950s work – there’s almost no overlap between the two collections. Yes, a couple of songs title appear on both sets (“Oleo,” “’Round Midnight”), but in a number of instances the versions are different. The take of “Four” on The Very Best Of is from Workin’ with the Miles Davis Quintet, and runs in excess of seven minutes; the four-minute version on Definintive is from Blue Haze and dates from two years earlier. The Very Best Of aims to present as wide a sonic palette as possible of the Quintet’s work, so there’s something for all sorts of jazz fans within the disc’s ten cuts. In addition to plenty of top-flight trumpet soling from Miles (most notably on “Oleo”), listeners get to hear Davis hang back and allow his amazing bandmates (Red Garland on piano, bassist Paul Chambers and Philly Joe Jones on drums) take their moments in the spotlight. And John Coltrane guests on tenor sax in the outro of a stellar “My Funny Valentine.”

Also: reviews of two (or three) more Concord Very Best Of jazz collections.

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