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.