Saturday, August 23, 2008

Hugo Montenegro - Mr Groovy (liner notes)

Sunshine delirium with an electronic edge

"I'm an experimenter in music. I am interested in enhancing the musical experience by utilizing dramatic effects" – Hugo Montenegro

Gratuitous guru of the groovy glee-club, Hugo Montenegro cooked the Western world’s nearest equivalent to the kind of ‘marsala’ composition so famously wrought on the Indian subcontinent by the likes of Rahul Dev Burman. No instrument is safe, and the human voice is the most ubiquitous instrument of all. Like Burman, Montenegro was adept in writing for a choir of wordless vocals; jazz-scat stylings via the innovations of their soundtrack compeer, Juan Garcia Esquivel... “Babada!”

Born to a modest New York family, World War 2 and a tour with the US navy provided youngster Montenegro with a G.I. bill place at the Manhattan School of Music. Here he applied his lessons in composition to the dance band he led outside of class. After graduation, a second tour-of-duty saw him arranging for the band at the Newport naval base; ultimate return to civilian life found him working as staff manager for Columbia Record’s king of saccharine strings, Andre Kostelantz, and Montenegro’s earliest LPs are subject to this regrettable “pazz and jop” influence.

By the dawn of the HiFi era, Montenegro was on staff at Time Records label, leading large ensembles through stomping covers of erstwhile standards like Grieg’s In The Hall Of The Mountain King (from the particularly choice Bongos And Brass LP). Work at Columbia Records had also brought him into the orbit of Harry Belafonte, and through the early and mid-60s Montenegro was arranging and conducting for Belafonte’s elaborate live performances. As Producer of Belafonte’s The Midnight Special LP in 1961, he hired a fledgling Bob Dylan as session harmonica player – but the gruelling rehearsal schedule proved too much for the aspirant star, and Dylan reportedly quit after recording only a single track...

By 1966, Montenegro had relocated from New York to Hollywood and was writing and recording soundtrack music both for Columbia Pictures, and Columbia’s television company, Screen Gems. Contracted to score Hurry Sundown for Otto Preminger, he brought Belafonte back into the studio to record the film’s theme. Other assignments on Western B-films followed; by 1969 he was scoring star vehicles Charro! (Elvis Presley) and The Undefeated (John Wayne). Around this same time, Montenegro’s staccato double-time adaptation of 50s West Coast jazz to an amplified rhythm section - fuzztone guitar and surf drums swinging a bossa beat - made him as responsible as anyone for 60’s spy-jazz style. 2 LPs worth of music from The Man From U.N.C.L.E. TV series suggested him to the producers of the Matt Helm franchise, but between scoring The Ambushers (1967) and The Wrecking Crew (1969) Montenegro enjoyed perhaps his most unlikely commercial success.

(etc) of the (many) great things to admire about that cover: the "Goodies" typeface.

Available now from the Omni Recording Corporation

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