July 30, 2015

Wes Montgomery - Full House (1962)


Everybody knows The Incredible Jazz Guitar, but every jazz fan knows Full House, a live-recording equally as great. Full House was recorded in northern California, obviously a weird setting for an East coast player, but I feel a difference in atmosphere between the dark steaminess of a New York City club to a lighter, groovy mode for this set recorded in Berkeley. Johnny Griffin accompanies Wes on the front line. One of my all-time favorite tenor players, Griffin was a dominant figure in balancing tone and melody during the hard bop explosion and there is probably nobody better to share the groove with Montgomery. The rhythm section is really what drives this classic though; the Wynton Kelly/Paul Chambers combo is always cold. I think most people would agree that Wynton Kelly is the best and most dynamic bandmate option Wes had in his career (let's be honest, the Jimmy Smith collaborations were usually somewhat corny). So this is some Wynton/Wes magic that tops even the classic Smokin At The Half Note record a few years later. Paul Chambers and Wynton Kelly were the featured rhythm duo for a good handful of Blue Note albums in the early 1960s, and more often than not would outshine the band leaders. This time their coolness is complemented and challenged perfectly by the brisk, yet soft tone of both Griffin and Montgomery. Chambers and Kelly are also given access to Jimmy Cobb, making this a jam session from one of the classic Miles Quintets (the one that recorded around the time of and on Kind Of Blue). Cobb is a much more compact and groovy option to complete the rhythm trio than the explosive and afro-fueled Art Blakey they were often with and to be honest I think he's the better option for this particular lineup. The band hammers out some classic bop tracks as well as ballads. And Wes can play both like a pro. He is self taught, doesn't use a pick, and regularly plays chords in his solos, unlike the other guitar giant Grant Green. While Grant had a wider career that was generally more consistent, Wes out-skills him any day with his coolness and superior ability to make a sweet melody that is always progressing forward. Classic material from the jazz great that needs to be listened to.

Sample

Full House