The Great Songs/Great Performances series by Verve is a new attempt to get prospective buyers interested in its vast jazz catalog, introducing them to large-scale hits by artists who appeared either on its label proper or on one of its licensees'. In the case of guitarist Wes Montgomery, Plays the Hits, it only takes eight tracks and just over 26 minutes. Montgomery is respected by jazz aficionados for his brilliant technique and soulfulness; many regard his '50s recordings for Riverside as his finest. The record-buying public didn’t see it that way. These tracks, all produced by Creed Taylor, are his versions of the rock, pop, and soul hits of the era, and each one landed as a charting single. Featured here are his own jazzy bossa recording of “Goin’ Out of My Head” (which echoed virtually all the vocal versions of the tune at the time); his signature takes on “California Dreamin’” (that literally defined soul-jazz as Verve interpreted it); the Association’s “Windy”; Bobby Hebb's “Sunny,” the Percy Sledge vehicle “When a Man Loves a Woman,” and the Beatles’ “Yesterday,” among others. Montgomery’s touch was light, breezy, full of groove -- if not swing -- and orchestrated by a team of pros. His voice ion the guitar was the sound of singing itself. All these cuts are heavily orchestrated but contain more soul than schmaltz, and the arrangements are terrific (the latter two cuts mentioned above were charted out by Don Sebesky). Any serious fan of Montgomery has this stuff many times over, but for the uninitiated, or those seeking some good-time, summery guitar grooves, the music can’t be beat -- especially at this price.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek