This double CD is more about Barney Kessel the studio player than Kessel the jazz guitar legend. Still, this compilation of three LPs originally released between 1961-1963 has some good music, and Kessel the jazz man is not entirely absent, even though the settings do not call for him to stretch out.
Breakfast at Tiffany's is Kessel's handling of Henry Mancini's music from the classic Blake Edwards film with Audrey Hepburn. With a number entitled "Moon River Cha Cha," listeners pretty much know what's in store for them with this set: instrumental treatments of pop music that was riding high both on the airwaves and on the big screen. The tracks are brief and the playing doesn't stray far from the arrangements. The Bossa Nova session is a step closer to jazz, but the context is still a commercial one. Kessel surprises with a twangy personality right out of Steve Cropper's work with the MG's or Mickey Baker's extroverted solo work. Ray Johnson's cheesy organ is an ideal complement to Kessel's bluesy surf guitar. Contemporary Latin Rhythms is a jazz date, but still with a pop attitude. Kessel is the only soloist on the sunny, unassuming arrangements. The guitarist's spirited work on Tad Dameron's "Lady Bird" is a highlight that showcases Kessel's fluency in moving between chorded and single-note soloing.
Students of Kessel's playing will find this compilation an intriguing display of the guitarist's range and adaptability. Fans of Kessel the jazz player, though, will want to stick with his fine series of releases for Contemporary from this same period.