Every once in a while you run across an album that seems to be just about perfect in every way. I’m happy to say that the album I intend to discuss this week is just such an album.
Most people know who Wes Montgomery is, so I won’t waste a lot of space telling you what you already know. We Montgomery was born on March 6, 1925, in Indianapolis, Indiana. He died from a heart attack just over 43 years later, on June 15, 1968, also in Indianapolis. During the relatively short time he was with us, he had a remarkable career, playing with Lionel Hampton, John Coltrane’s Sextet, Melvin Rhyne, Freddie Hubbard, Tommy Flanagan, Percy Heath, Hank Jones, and others.
|Full House, Riverside, 1962
Besides jazz, Montgomery recorded several successful pop albums, as well as one that some credit as being the first so-called “smooth jazz” album, “Bumpin’.” But the album I intend to tell you about resides firmly in the hard bop realm on the “real jazz” side of the street, and that is the classic 1962 Riverside release, “Full House.”
One reason this album is so great is that there are no sidemen. Every artist on this disc is a leader in his own right, and as the concert progresses we will hear each and every one of them show us why.
The personnel are:
Wes Montgomery, guitar
Johnny Griffin, tenor sax
Wynton Kelly, piano
Paul Chambers, bass
Jimmy Cobb, drums
“Full House” was recorded live at a club called Tsubo, located in Berkeley, California. Montgomery had appeared at Tsubo before and had been impressed with the room’s acoustics. Having carefully assembled the best band available for his first live record, he wanted to make sure all that talent was not squandered playing in a “dead” room.
According to Orrin Keepnews’ liner notes, word had spread of the powerhouse group that was appearing with Montgomery that night (June 25, 1962), and a line of would-be audience members stretched around the block for the entire evening, long after the club was filled to capacity.
Eventually the recording crew threw open the back door so the crowd outside, who had no real hope of making it inside, could hear the show over the recording engineer’s monitors!
There are five Montgomery tunes on the album, out of eleven total tracks. There is no information to state whether the tracks are presented in concert order, but if they are, it’s hard to imagine a better opening number than the title track, Montgomery’s own composition “Full House.”
The guys jump right in, and I have to say that the sound on the 24-bit remastered CD is fantastic. From Montgomery’s unique fingering style to Cobb’s hi-hat, you can hear it all with remarkable clarity. A few minutes in Griffin steps back for a while and lets Kelly and the boys take over supporting Montgomery, but when Griffin returns four minutes in he takes over the whole thing, and this becomes very much his song for the next two minutes. Then Kelly and Cobb take the forefront for a bit, with Chambers’ bass keeping time on the fringes of your consciousness. With a minute and a half to go the whole group picks it up and carries it to the end.
Skipping ahead to track three we find a Dizzy Gillespie/Frank Paparelli composition, “Blue ‘N’ Boogie.” This has always been a popular number, and for good reason. It’s one of those songs that is difficult to listen to and be sad or unhappy. It moves right along in a fast, hard bop pace, and takes you with it, up, up, always up. Solos are frequent and long, and invariably meet with vigorous approval from the live audience.
Up next is “Cariba (Take 2),” another Montgomery original and, at nine minutes and forty-some seconds, the longest song on the disc. As you might expect from the name, “Cariba” has a decidedly Latin air. When things quiet down we have Cobb and Chambers (with a bit of Kelly for seasoning here and there) in a lively exchange which the audience eats up. Then Kelly takes the lead, still with Cobb doing a rapid percussion beat and Chambers bass, once again to loud appreciation from the onlookers. Griffin’s solo is next, and you can tell he had more than a few fans there that night, cheering him on. Finally Montgomery steps forward, and I just shake my head at the incredible sounds he got out of that guitar.
“Cariba (Take 1)” opens completely differently than Take 2 and then, after a few seconds, mimics its sibling track. I am not set up, technically, to play and pause two separate songs at one time, so it’s not easy to pick out many differences between the two. You can’t help wondering why they felt the need for two takes, although “Cariba” is not the only song presented here in more than one version.
“S.O.S.,” yet another Montgomery composition, is represented by Takes 2 and 3, but not Take 1. And “Born To Be Blue,” from Mel Torme and Robert Wells, has Tracks 1 and 1. I have no idea why, other than to fill out the extra time the CD format makes available. Not that I am complaining! But it might have been nice to have that extra room used for additional material instead of alternate takes.
To return to “Cariba (Take 1),” for a moment, I would like to say that it is a great version of this song and I doubt that you will find it in any way boring.
Somewhere in between all that we are presented with a wonderful version of the Harold Arlen/Johnny Mercer classic, “Come Rain Or Come Shine,” which could be the state of Oregon’s official song. 😉 This is a nice piece of music, by turns mellow and hot, and Griffin does some mighty fine blowing for us here before Montgomery steps forward. Before it’s all over, this one becomes a hand-clappin, foot-tappin’ express that fades into the distance.
As I mentioned earlier, I am not set up to do an effective job of comparing two (or more) versions of a song, so I am going to talk about “S.O.S. (Take 3)” and leave you to find out for yourself what delights Take 2 harbors. J
“S.O.S.” is the final offering from Montgomery’s pen that we are treated to on this album. It opens fast and pretty much holds that pace, with Montgomery, Griffin and the rhythm section tearing their way through all five minutes of it. When it’s Kelly’s turn at the helm, Cobb nearly goes crazy on the ride cymbal, laying down a veritable barrage of percussive energy.
As I’m sure you’ve already figured out for yourself, I believe you will find Wes Montgomery’s “Full House” will make an outstanding addition to your personal playlist for a Saturday, or any other night!
You can learn more about Wes Montgomery and his music by visiting his official web site. His music is available for purchase or legal downloading at all the usual places.
As a parting shot tonight, to make up for the fact that I was unable to locate anything from this album online, here is a complete Wes Montgomery concert, recorded in Holland in 1965. The only information given is that the pianist was a gentleman named Pim Jacobs. Enjoy!
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Thank you! J
Copyright © 2013 by Al Evans. All rights reserved.