Two jazz virtuosos combine on a superstar album!
Jimmy & Wes: The Dynamic Duo is a 1966 collaborative album by American jazz guitarist Wes Montgomery and electric organist Jimmy Smith, with arrangements by Oliver Nelson. It is frequently listed among Jimmy Smith's best albums!
During three days in September 1966, two jazz heavyweights — both arguably at the peak of their respective powers — joined forces in Rudy Van Gelder's famous New Jersey studio to record a scintillating collaboration for Verve Records. They were Pennsylvanian organ maestro Jimmy Smith and Indianapolis guitar sensation Wes Montgomery. At that time, both musicians were beginning to expand their audiences and appear on the radar of pop music fans: Smith via several US hit singles, including the Top 30 smash "Walk On The Wild Side," and Montgomery with his popular instrumental cover of R&B group Little Anthony & The Imperials' "Goin' Out Of My Head."
For producer and Verve executive Creed Taylor, combining the talents of two of the top-selling jazz artists on his label's roster was a no-brainer. Taylor brought in an arranger who had worked with both Smith and Montgomery individually: Oliver Nelson, an alto saxophonist and recording artist in his own right who had found greater fame as an arranger/conductor and would go on to work on TV and movie soundtracks.
Although some purist jazz fans were hostile to Smith and Montgomery receiving orchestral backings, believing that the pair were cheapening their talent for commercial gain, Creed Taylor felt it was the only way he could get jazz on the radio.
Scoring for a 13-piece brass and woodwind ensemble that included several noted jazz musicians, including saxophonist Phil Woods and trumpeter Clark Terry, Nelson's sophisticated backdrops for Smith and Montgomery ranged from a swaggering big band number ("Down By The Riverside") to a finger-clicking bluesy shuffle ("Night Train"), and a cinematic mood piece called "13 (Death March)."
Nelson's charts didn't overwhelm the pair or prevent some exciting jazz improv from taking place. The horns often featured on the intros and outros, leaving space for Smith and Montgomery to show their flair — and on the exceptional "James & Wes" (a Smith-penned musical portrait of the two men), the brass dropped out to allow the album's two protagonists to serve up a cooking groove in a quartet setting with Grady Tate on drums and Ray Barretto playing congas.
The album ended on a seasonal note with a jingly, sleigh bell-driven version of Frank Loesser's "Baby, It's Cold Outside"; the perennially popular much-covered Christmas tune first recorded in 1949 that has often been performed as a duet. Smith's organ and Montgomery's guitar create a conversational-style musical dialogue before they each embark on virtuosic solos.
Although Jimmy Smith and Wes Montgomery would never meet again inside a recording studio, the three days they spent together back in September 1966 achieved remarkable results, producing one of the best jazz albums of the 1960s.
|Down By The Riverside
|James & Wes
|13 (Death March)
|Baby, It's Cold Outside