Posted: October 4th, 2008
I was a 15-year old Jimi Hendrix fanatic looking to expand his record collection. Knowing that Jimi liked jazz, I figured I might as well check out this music that I had long associated with old people and elevators. I went to the record store, and, having nobody to steer me in the right direction, began browsing the jazz section by album cover alone. The record that finally grabbed me featured a huge pair of black hands playing on a hollow bodied guitar. This one looked like something Hendrix might have been listening to, so I bought it. My arbitrary selection turned out to be none other than Wes Montgomery’s Full House, one of the finest jazz guitar albums of all time. This lucky score would have a life-changing impact on my listening habits, breaking the hold of rock and roll and pushing my tastes into new directions. Sixteen years and hundreds of records later, I wonder whether I would have become such an ardent jazz fan had my first purchase been any less brilliant.
One of the most electrifying sessions of Wes’ career, Full House documents a magical, one-night only encounter in 1962 between the guitarist, tenor saxophonist Johnny Griffin, and the Miles Davis rhythm section at the Tsubo nightclub in Berkeley, California. In a stroke of luck, pianist Wynton Kelly, bassist Paul Chambers, and drummer Jimmy Cobb just happened to be in town, playing with Miles across the bay in San Francisco. They took advantage of a night off to lend their support to Wes on his very first live recording. Proof of their explosive chemistry can be found all over this album, in such extended grooves as the title track, the Latin-spiced “Cariba,” and the jamming Dizzy Gillespie classic, “Blue ‘N’ Boogie.”
The trio would soon part ways with Miles and go on to record steadily with Wes, but nothing else comes close to matching the spontaneity of this first chance meeting. Wes is in top form, imaginatively combining the swing and fluidity of Charlie Christian with the rhythmic octaves of Django Reinhardt. While he would later achieve great commercial success playing easy-listening pop covers, this was far and away his most innovative period. His solos are consistently unpredictable yet always rhythmic, pushing the band to the limit. Tenor great Johnny Griffin rises to the challenge, taking one fiery solo after another to the vocal delight of the small but privileged East Bay crowd. Wes and Griffin aggressively trade riffs on “S.O.S.,” tearing down the house in a heated duel that finally ends in a draw. Griffin sits out as Wes feels his way through an introspective and soulful rendition of “Born To Be Blue,” the bonus track that closes out the CD release of this essential recording.
My love for the music of Jimi Hendrix not only guided me to Wes Montgomery, it opened me up to the vast worlds of jazz, blues, funk and soul. Curious to uncover Hendrix’s influences, I began finding amazing new music, and got hooked on the discovery process. Wes turned out to be a perfect starting point for me, because his connection to Hendrix was strong. In their tragically short careers, both Wes and Hendrix were able to demonstrate the electric guitar’s near cosmic range of expression, making the instrument what it is today.
I will always believe that there was a reason I was drawn to this record beyond its cover. One thing remains absolutely clear: Upon hearing Full House, I was destined to become a hard-core jazz fan. Oh, first loves…
- Wes Montgomery – Guitar
- Johnny Griffin – Saxophone, Sax (Tenor)
- Wynton Kelly – Piano
- Paul Chambers – Bass
- Jimmy Cobb – Drums
- Wally Heider – Recording Engineer
- Full House (Montgomery) – 9:09
- I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face (Lerner/Loewe) – 3:25
- Blue ‘N’ Boogie (Gillespie) – 9:35
- Cariba (Montgomery) – 9:37
- Come Rain or Come Shine [Take 2] (Arlen/Mercer) – 6:55
- Come Rain or Come Shine (Arlen/Mercer) – 7:15
- S.O.S. [Take 3] (Montgomery) – 5:02
- S.O.S. (Montgomery) – 4:45
- Born to Be Blue (Torme/Wells) – 7:23