When Orrin Keepnews signed Wes Montgomery to his then Riverside Records imprint the guitarist was already wearing the crown handed to him – proverbially speaking – from the sainted head of the legendary Charlie Christian. And that crown was Mr Montgomery to retain or lose. Of course, he retained it throughout his life until other guitarist-musicians wrestled for it in a manner of speaking. Even so, it was – and is – hard to imagine music [and not simply ‘guitar music’] without Mr Montgomery. This performance known as The Complete Full House Recordings is ample proof of the enduring legacy of Wes Montgomery.
The original recording is well documented in Mr Keepnews’ [original] notes at the back of this vinyl package. They describe the extraordinary interest – that went beyond mere curiosity – in the music of this genius of the electric guitar. Word of his soft, “thumb-and-fingers” sound was already the stuff of myth and in the words of Mr Keepnews: “…many of those most familiar with his music have felt that his recording-studio work, effective and [to quote an album title ‘incredible’, as it may be, not been able to convey the full measure of free-flowing excitement that can be created by an in-person Wes Montgomery performance.” This, indeed, was the raison d-être for this packed [and recorded] live performance.
Mr Montgomery of course, did not disappoint. His playing never did. His gilt-edged melodic lines soared as if they were issued by lips raised in song rather than by fingers that glided in balletic lines along the six strings of his electric guitar. If his fingers on his hands were calloused we would never know; soft skin caresses the steel spiralled strings that resonated, almost heraldic, from the shallow cavern of his hollow-body guitar. Settings on his amplifier made the already soft sounds even more dulcet. Even in the up-tempo songs so appropriate to the one entitled S.O.S his phrases and lines are like liquid gold being poured out after being refined in the cauldron of his musician’s mind.
Listeners used to hear Mr Montgomery play with his brothers will find double the joy at listening to Mr Montgomery with this incomparable accompaniment – pianist Wynton Kelly, bassist Paul Chambers and the drummer Jimmy Cobb. The quartet is complemented by the grossly underrated tenor saxophonist Johnny Griffin, who earned the respect of such superstars as Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane, [among others]. To those musicians and many others whose ensembles that he graced Mr Griffin waxed lyrical on chorus after chorus; not to mention several fine albums made under his own name.
The title of this release has a legend of its own. Wes Montgomery: The Complete Full House Recordings refers to a recording made at a venue was recorded ‘live’ at Tsubo, in Berkeley, California. It is noted that the announcement that Mr Montgomery was to appear at the venue in 1962 that avid fans arrived in droves and snaked around the building. The venue itself was “Full” in no time at all and Mr Montgomery’s live performance spilled out onto the streets where Mr Montgomery was heard by listeners in the parking lot behind the club, where the celebrated recording engineer, Wally Heider has set up his control room.
This fine recording documented on Disc One tells us that certainly no one – in the club or outside – would have been disappointed. The musicians are on fire throughout the set[s]. Mr Montgomery is at the top of his game. There is a seductive intimacy in his playing that resonates with the domestic nature of these miniature gems – expanded just enough to give both Mr Montgomery, Mr Griffin, and Mr Kelly to propel the music into orbit. Mr Chambers is brilliant as is Mr Cobb. Both rhythmists rumble along majestically, and the drummer is always so deep in the pocket that when the soloists return from their short stratospheric flights, they touchdown right where they planned to be – right where melody, harmony and rhythm welcome them back into the song.
Another appealing aspect of this release is the other two discs that come with it. Each LP features not music that came from the cutting room floor despite titles such as Alternate Takes and Alternate Takes and Outtakes respectively. Every song is conceived of and interpreted afresh. This gives the impression – rightfully so – that we are listening to three different albums in one very special.
And for those refusniks who are likely to suggest that ‘we’ve heard it all before’ there is the small fact that mastering – from terrific originals by Mr Heider, the legendary engineer of live performances – results in pristine recordings on heavyweight material. The proverbial hole in the wallet that one might moan about is a small price to pay for such priceless recordings remastered to perfection to please even the most discerning audiophile ear.
Music – Disc One Full House – Side A – 1: Full House; 2: I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face; 3: Blue ‘n’ Boogie [Take 2, album version]. Side B – 1: Cariba; 2: Come Rain or Come Shine; 3: S.O.S. [Take 3, album version]. Disc Two Alternate Takes – Side C – 1: Full House [originally played Montgomery solo restored* Previously unreleased]; 2: Blue ‘n’ Boogie, [Take 1, originally released on Wes Montgomery: The Complete Riverside Recordings]. Side D – 1: Cariba [Take 1, alternate, originally released on Wes Montgomery: The Complete Riverside Recordings] 2: Come Rain or Come Shine [Take 1. Alternate, originally released on The Alternate Wes Montgomery]. Disc Three – Alternate Takes and Outtakes – Side E – 1: S.O.S. [Take 1. alternate. previously unreleased]; 2: S.O.S. [Take 21. alternate. originally released on The Alternate Wes Montgomery]. Side F – 1: Born to be Blue [Take 1, alternate, originally released on Wes Montgomery: The Complete Riverside Recordings]; 2: Born to be Blue [Take 2, outtake, Originally released on The Alternate Wes Montgomery].
Musicians – Wes Montgomery: guitar; Johnny Griffin: tenor saxophone; Wynton Kelly: piano; Paul Chambers: contrabass; Jimmy Cobb: drums.
Released – 1962/2023
Label – Riverside Recordings/Craft Recordings [CR00681]
Runtime – Disc One Side A 22:29 Side B 21:45 Disc Two Side C 18:21 Side D 15:53 Disc Three Side E 9:58 Side F 14:52