Tim Fitzgerald’s Full House

Tim Fitzgerald’s Full House
(Cellar Music Group)

Several of Chicago’s most in-demand instrumentalists, improvisers and arrangers reside in Tim Fitzgerald’s Full House, a seven-year-old ensemble dedicated to interpreting and building upon the repertoire of Wes Montgomery (1923–’68). Long inspired by the DownBeat Hall of Fame guitarist and deeply conversant in the soul-stirring repertoire and smoothly stylized playing techniques the master innovated and popularized in the 1950s and ’60s, Fitzgerald is a Montgomery scholar and visionary who has long deserved wider recognition for his work. In 20-plus years of performing, bandleading, transcribing, researching and authoring, Fitzgerald has consistently shown a deep connection to and intimacy with the music of the jazz world’s smokin’-est self-taught guitarist. His septet’s eponymous debut (named for Montgomery’s hard-bopping 1962 live album Full House) uses Montgomery’s substantial and celebrated oeuvre as a jumping-off point for inventive adventures in bebop, swing, groovy smoothness, bluesy swagger and extended improvising. What makes this project truly remarkable, though, are the expertly voiced, rhythmically charged arrangements of Montgomery tunes that Fitzgerald and his bandmates bring to the party. Some of the more captivating moments on Tim Fitzgerald’s Full House occur when horn players Victor Garcia (trumpet), Greg Ward (alto) and Chris Madsen (tenor) join with the leader on extended soli passages into which Fitzgerald integrates Montgomery’s signature chord-melody playing technique. The resulting brass-and-guitar blend conjures up a complex timbre that’s as ear-catching as it is otherworldly sounding; it flares out at the listener with a wah-wah-like dynamic and subsides with a pleasing softness. Fitzgerald doesn’t emulate Montgomery’s playing per se, but the two guitarists have much in common: fleet-fingered dexterity, an affinity for rhythmically advanced material, total command of the harmonic elements inherent in straightahead jazz, impeccable touch on the fretboard, mastery of all things syncopated and a grounded reverence for the blues. Drummer George Fludas is a driving force throughout the program, never failing to generate sparks or sprinkle bits of sparkle and shimmer in just the right places. Pianist Tom Vaitsas and bassist Christian Dillingham round out this spectacular lineup, a deep well of talent and experience that Fitzgerald draws upon to sustain the type of feel-good flow that has given Montgomery’s contributions to the jazz canon such enduring appeal among jazz listeners and players alike.