April 1999

Wes Montgomery - Full House
DCC GZS-1109
Originally released: 1962
Remaster released: 1997

by Todd Warnke

Musical Performance *****
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment *****

[Reviewed on CD]Wes Montgomery is the most influential jazz guitarist of all time. Make your case for Charlie Christian as the originator, or for John McLaughlin based on his unearthly skill (or my own fave, Kenny Burrell, for his sheer class), but from the mid '50s to the mid '60s, Wes was jazz guitar. And this was in spite of his final, commercial-oriented Verve and A&M albums, which, if not jazz successes, did much to elevate the consciousness of jazz. Fortunately, Full House comes not from that era, but from right before, when Montgomery was at the top of his game. And even better, being a live album, it captures him in his element -- the creation of spontaneous beauty.

For this set, Montgomery, known for his smooth, sweet sound, was working with the Miles Davis rhythm section: Wynton Kelly on piano, Paul Chambers on bass and Jimmy Cobb on drums -- a group that could swing harder than any other three people on the planet. And to fill out the front line, Wes brought in the world's fastest tenor, Johnny Griffin. Taken separately, this one-off combo shouldn’t work, but like chocolate, peanuts, and salt, it does. Montgomery plays with a tartness that often escaped him in the studio, the rhythm section absolutely cooks, and Griffin shows a sweetness in addition to his usual toughness.

The set list has a touch of everything, from the bop classic "Blue ‘N’ Boogie," to the soft Caribbean feel of the appropriately titled "Cariba," and a couple of classic Lerner-Loewe and Mercer-Arlen ballads. Besides the Montgomery-penned "Cariba," the leader contributes the title track and "S.O.S.," the highlight of the set. This reissue, in addition to the original six tunes, adds the Mel Tormé tune "Born To Be Blue" as well as alternate versions "Come Rain Or Come Shine" and "S.O.S." In all, Full House is a near-perfect album, and the one I recommend to friends looking to start either their Montgomery or jazz-guitar collections.

Now, for the real reason for this review, the sound. Full House is available on Original Jazz Classics in both standard-issue CD and vinyl. Being a card-carrying geek, I have both. The CD is pretty darn good; tonally clean, if a bit thin, it has nice dynamics and above-average live sound. The vinyl is even better than the OJC CD, with a bit more richness and a greater sense of detail.

But -- and here is the genius of Steve Hoffman, working from the same sources as OJC -- the DCC gold disc is better still. It has richer bass, cleaner treble and greater harmonic accuracy. The stage is both wider and deeper, as well more detailed. Dynamics are modestly boosted, as is the overall sense of detail. But best of all -- that special sense of real players in real space and in real time listening to each other, feeding off each other, and playing together is taken to new heights. The difference is compelling, involving and adds greatly to the illusion of being there. All of this means, at least in my book, that the DCC disc is the only way to go.