Saturday, October 24, 2015

Wes Montgomery - 1962 [2007] "Full House"

Full House is the seventh album and first live jazz album by American jazz guitarist Wes Montgomery, released in 1962.

The performance was recorded live at Tsubo in Berkeley, California on June 25, 1962. The session featured a quintet that included Wynton Kelly on piano, Johnny Griffin on tenor saxophone, Paul Chambers on bass, and Jimmy Cobb on drums.
The original release was on the Riverside Records label. There have been a number of reissues of the recording, most including alternate takes of several tracks. A 1987 CD release on Riverside Records/Original Jazz Classics was digitally remastered by Danny Kopelson at Fantasy Studios in Berkeley, California. A more recent, 2007 Riverside release features additional bonus tracks.

That's how many stars this incredible Live recording rates. There are so many special moments, musically, to treasure here that it's hard to know where to start. Wes' treatment of "I've Grown Accustomed To Her Face" is a solo showcase for his genius for musical dynamics - the way he thumb-strums the melody; the way he pauses and 'slurs down' on the two "words", referencing the lyrics; the way he intro's (and 'out-ros') in a different key...the next moment that comes to mind is in "Blue 'N Boogie". Wes gets off some machine gun licks, then hands it off to Wynton, Paul, and Jimmy. Listen to how Jimmy Cobb shifts the dynamic of the beat at the start of Wynton's third verse, bumping the off-beat and rim-clicking the 2/4 - literally creating a new level for Wynton to go to (which he does, with a Red Garland-esque block chord ending). The most amazing thing of all is that this is all a prelude to Johnnie Griffin's solo, followed by all around 'trading fours' to the end. It's a clinic in dynamics, group-style. On the next track, "Cariba", Wes gives a clinic on how to build, chorus after chorus, upon each previous statement. I think it may be one of his best solos of the night. Every track could be broken down into these kind of moments (I'll spare you...), but the point is that this band - specifically Wes with the Wynton Kelly trio, as Johnny Griffin is sweet icing on that cake, was one of the tightest, most dynamic jazz units to ever grace a stage. What a moment in Time that night must have been. What a CD this is. 

Forget "The Incredible". This is Wes's masterwork, performed live with a band finally up to his genius. Despite all the praise he got as a player, I think this album makes the argument that he's STILL under-appreciated. His solo on "Blue N' Boogie" is as fine a piece of spontaneous composition as exists. If you like jazz guitar, if you like jazz... hell, if you like music, don't wait another second. Get it.

"Smokin at the Half Note" is usually touted as Wes' best recorded work and understandably so. However, in my opinion, "Full House" makes for a much better record. "Smokin'" as orginally issued is a piecemeal recording. Only the first two cuts are recorded live. The other tracts were recorded later at the Van Gelder Studios. Subsequently, "Willow Weep for Me" was issued posthumously containing the other tunes from the Half Note dates but with the cuts unfortunately overdubbed with a horn section. The most exciting cut from the Half Note dates, "Impressions" was absent from both records, only to appear on a later Verve collection. Just way too much tampering with a live performance for my taste. Full House is unadulterated and Wes plays with just as much fire. The feeling of "actually being there" is much better represented by this record. My only complaint is the needless repetition of the same songs one right after the other. If you're going to put on alternate performances, put them at the end of the record for crying out loud! Still, Full House is so good in spite of this that I can't bring myself to give it anything less than five stars. If I could only own one Wes cd it would be this one.

I love guitar jazz. Real guitar jazz, not the watered down sap they play on 'smooth jazz' radio or the avantgarde dreck intellectuals play at their dinner parties. The category is chock full with wonderful players, both living and dead; alas, Wes is no longer with us, but his influence is all over the place. He was a great technician but also a brilliant interpreter who could achieve gorgeous tone, and sometimes slipping into schmaltzy pop modes. None of that on this disc, sparkling and freshly-remastered, that showcases Wes at the absolute top of his game...and of the guitar jazz heap.

As one of the most influential jazz guitarists of all time (second only to perhaps Charlie Christian), Wes Montgomery created a vocabulary of techniques and mannerisms for jazzers similar to how Andres Segovia did for classical players. His trademarks - octaves, extended block chord solos, and above all, melodicism - blew many away in the forceful manner which Wes employed them. I feel that on this release, Full House, Wes demonstrates his talents as a bandleader and player better than most of his recordings, except for perhaps the legendary Smokin' at the Half Note.

The engineering on this record is superb; every instrument comes through in the mix loud and clear, yet retains a special spot in the audio spectrum and blends nicely with the other instruments. I personally own the 20-bit remaster, but it sounds to me like the basic mix itself was pretty good to begin with.

This is one of the most superb bands that jazz has perhaps ever seen. We have the esteemed Wynton Kelly trio, with Wynton Kelly on piano, Paul Chambers on bass, and Jimmy Cobb on drums, to back up Wes, of course, and also on this occasion the formidable talents of saxophonist Johnny Griffin (who would pair with the same quartet on several later dates). Wes and Johnny often harmonize on the melodies, especially on "Cariba" and "S.O.S.", and it works quite well, especially with the notable difference in tone color between their instruments. Griffin has a sound that I can't quite pin down; to my ears, it doesn't sound distinctly like any of the sax masters, so it's a surprise that he isn't better known in the jazz canon. Regardless, his playing is superb and he goes toe-to-toe with Wes on nearly every cut.

The blues is in strong effect on this record, as with most Wes recordings; "Cariba", in fact, is at its core a basic 12-bar Latin blues, with a unique bassline that gives it a little bit of a distinctive sound. "Cariba" is also the cut with the best Wes solo (although "Full House" comes rather close as well). Really, the whole ensemble works together to make an overall appealing sound, and it's not just like the rhythm section is ticking away while the soloists blow. The drummer and Wynton are always in tune with the soloists, whether they're doing repeating riffs and Cobb comes in with a few synchronized cymbal hits, or the soloists step it up dynamically and the rhythm section follows them all the way. This is a little more evident on Smokin' at the Half Note, but that was several years later, when Wes had been playing with Wynton's trio on a regular basis; this is the genesis of their collaboration, and it's an impressive one.

So why only 4 stars if the record is overall incredible? Well, having multiple takes of the same song to fill space on a jazz record is not something I am particularly fond of. It makes it a little hard to listen to the record straight through multiple times and not get a little annoyed. Plus, each extra take is pretty routine. Also, the track selection is not quite perfect; "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face" was not a good choice, as Wes's chord-melody playing is nowhere near his octave- or single-note talents. He is a master chord soloist, true, but he can't play chord-melody like Joe Pass or anything. Also, "Come Rain or Come Shine" is kind of a substandard tune on the record - not bad by any means, but every other track is killer, so it weighs down the others a bit.

This is still a very worthy purchase; the band is hot, and so are Johnny Griffin and Wes, and that's pretty much the fundamental selling point of any great jazz record. If multiple takes don't bother you much, this record is only more recommended. For everyone else, it's still a great album to just plain listen to; it's not boring like some jazz records, due to the incredibly dynamic playing of the band. Plus, hearing Wes live is pretty much the only way to go, and that's probably the best compliment I can give. I'm sure the club was a Full House on this night for sure.

Track listing
Original Issue

    "Full House" (Wes Montgomery) – 9:14
    "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face" (Alan Jay Lerner, Frederick Loewe) – 3:18
    "Blue 'n' Boogie" (Dizzy Gillespie, Frank Paparelli) – 9:31
    "Come Rain or Come Shine" (Johnny Mercer, Harold Arlen) – 6:49
    "S.O.S." (Montgomery) – 4:57
    "Born To Be Blue" (Mel Tormé, Robert Wells) – 7:23

2007 Reissue by Riverside

    "Full House" (Wes Montgomery) - 9:16
    "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face" (Lerner, Loewe) - 3:29
    "Blue 'N' Boogle" (Gillespie, Paparelli) - 9:38
    "Cariba (Take 2)" (Wes Montgomery) - 9:41
    "Come Rain or Come Shine [Take 2]" (Arlen, Mercer) - 6:57
    "S.O.S. (Take 3)" (Wes Montgomery) - 5:03
    "Cariba" (Wes Montgomery) - 8:28
    "Come Rain or Come Shine" (Arlen, Mercer) - 7:21
    "S.O.S." (Wes Montgomery) - 4:49
    "Born to Be Blue" (Tormé, Wells) - 7:27
    "Born to Be Blue (alternate take)" (Tormé, Wells) - 7:35


    Wes Montgomery – guitar
    Johnny Griffin – tenor sax
    Wynton Kelly – piano
    Paul Chambers – bass
    Jimmy Cobb – drums



  2. Haven't heard this ever. But if it's in the same league with Smokin' At The Half Note, it should be nothing less than stunning. Thanks.

  3. my favourite Wes' record! i have all the 1987 vinyl reissues but i have been looking for this in digital format.. thank you so much!