May 18, 2024

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CD review: Wes Montgomery – The Complete Full House Recordings – 2023: Video, CD cover

Influence is a difficult thing to measure. Guitarist Pat Metheny once said that all electric bassists following Jaco Pastorius owe him a stylistic debt of gratitude. Metheny has similar praise for fellow jazz musician Wes Montgomery, whose influence on the electric guitar is now omnipresent.

Montgomery used his thumb rather than a pick to get his fluid sound; Pat Martino’s smooth and lengthy guitar lines can be traced back to Montgomery. Montgomery’s use of octaves has been adopted by countless followers; George Benson is especially known for incorporating octaves into his own playing. Both Martino and Benson would be the first to acknowledge their indebtedness to Montgomery.

With such widespread influence, it’s appropriate to look back at the source – Wes Montgomery himself. There’s no place better to do this than on the new Craft Recordings rerelease of his Full House album. The Complete Full House Recordings: Recorded ‘Live’ at the Tsubo, Berkeley, California comes from a 1962 live date when Montgomery was at his peak. Most agree that the albums recorded for the Riverside label show the guitarist at his most innovative. In this album’s small group setting, there is nothing to distract from Montogomery’s creative yet accessible style.

The setlist includes Montgomery’s own “Full House” and “Cariba,” plus Dizzy Gillespie’s “Blue ‘n’ Boogie.” These nine-minute pieces give plenty of solo space for Johnny Griffin’s tenor sax work and Wynton Kelly’s piano. The highly revered Paul Chambers plays upright bass, with Jimmy Cobb on drums. But as great of a quintet as this is, band leader Montgomery’s guitar remains the focal point of each tune.

Later studio recordings were often criticized for including strings and for their song choices, but maybe that’s unfair. Popular melodies are also included here. As fellow guitarist Chet Atkins told his audience, “You take a good song where you find it.” Montogomery clearly agreed and gives his interpretations of “Come Rain or Come Shine,” and “I’ve Grown Accustomed to her Face” from My Fair Lady. This latter performance is also noteworthy for the audience’s attentive silence. No clinking glasses or chatter mar Wes Montgomery’s beautiful playing.

The first disc of this two CD set is the original 1962 release; the second consists of alternate takes from the same live engagement. These additional recordings allow an interested listener to hear how Montgomery could redefine the same piece with different nuances each time he played it. That’s jazz.

Influence can’t be quantified, but we can see that many of Montogomery’s peers hold him in high esteem. Acknowledgements of admiration include Stevie Wonder’s composition “We All Remember Wes,” which George Benson recorded. Pat Martino’s album Remember is a tribute, as is Emily Remler’s East to Wes album. Pick up The Complete Full House Recordings: Recorded ‘Live’ at the Tsubo, Berkeley, California to hear what Stevie, Pat, George, and Emily found so remarkable.

Wes Montgomery 'The Complete Full House Recordings' artwork - Courtesy: Craft Recordings

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