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Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Grant Green is Beautiful!

been on a blue note kick again lately... particularly into grant green.. this isn't the first time i've been into grant green!..he's one of my main men.. but i did recently pick up a few things from his second period at blue note...

grant green recorded a ton of stuff on blue note from about 1961 to 1966... then i think he went to jail for a bit and had some drug problems and dropped out... its sorta unclear for what but i think it was some drug any case its not even really discussed in sharon green's pretty paltry bio (my copy of this is in argentina right now but i remember it not being really addressed).. anyways the sum is this... grant green recorded on stanley turrentine's rough 'n tumble lp on july 1, 1966... he did not record again on blue note until his comeback session playing on reuben wilson's love bug on march 21, 1969... his last session as leader on blue note was on march 31, 1965's "i want to hold your hand"...his return session was "carryin on" october 3, 1969.. you do the math! thats like a three to four year period of little activity for grant green on a label for which earlier he had been recording on almost every session (grant green WAS blue note's regular house guitarist)...its well known that alfred lion, blue note owner, particularly dug green's chops and had him record often... lion sells label in 67 and almost drops out..this all coincides with period of little if any grant green activity....

by the time green comes back to record in 1969 the entire music scene had changed..heck the entire country.. think about the stuff going on in the United States in 1967 and 1968 (vietnam, mlk shot, rfk shot, civil rights, etc) ....jazz was on the way out in relation to funk r&b (think james brown, motown) as a popular art form in the black community and the new jazz scene on blue note in particular consisted of some soul jazz and some schmaltzy covers of bacharach tunes... and in particular with respect to jazz guitar: two guitarists had emerged and broken out big time.. .

wes montgomery who attained a level of sucess grant green could only have dreamed about and yet at the same time must have felt should have been his.. his body of work in the early 1960s is to my ears more impressive than wes montgomery's.. i mean by a mile and a half!... and wes' recordings for verve and a&m in the mid 60s are pretty adult contemporary stuff...of course destroyed by that great destroyer of talent creed taylor- and his producer sebesky- whose habit of adding overbearing strings to great jazz music is one of the great crimes in jazz recordings..they even manage to get their hands on a song or two from wes' dynamic duo album recorded with jimmy smith which i do like (oliver nelson does the "arrangements") in any case, these horrible recordings of things like "california dreamin" with strings over wes montgomery's guitar sold a ton and received great airplay.... wes montgomery dies suddenly of a heart attack on june 15, 1968

after wes passes on and you think maybe grant green will get his moment in the sun -although he probably loses critical time by being out of the recording scene until pretty much mid 1969- george benson, who much admired green and some say green was a sorta protege to him in his early days in new york city, steps up and becomes the new hot guitarists... grant green never did get his moment in the sun and from 1970 or so would spend the next few years scuffing around struggling from gig to gig... driving all the way from detroit to california for a gig in 1978 and trying to drive back (thats how short the funds must have been) sent him to the hospital and he never recovered dying a year later..

on the two initial grant green records from his comeback on blue note: "carryin on" (recorded 10-3-69) and "green is beautiful" (recorded 1-30-70) the covers consist of 1) a photo of a young couple (not grant green) and 2) a strange cartoon based on an old picture of grant green that must have been from 1961 or so (probably taken by wolff).. whats my point? when grant green comes out of retirement/jail/drug period or what have you he is a much older bald looking guy..nothing wrong with that but blue note must not have wanted to present him that way... clearly, grant did not have the support from blue note that he had in the day when alfred lion was running the label as he recorded just a few dates.. now its also true that by 1969 blue note was a completely shot to pieces label.. you can't compare the late 60s blue note label to the one we all know and love..having said that vangelder was still engineering the sessions and the late 60s soul jazz recordings of blue note (reuben wilson, lonnie smith, donaldson, and green) are pretty notable.. they have been mined by sampladelics and beatfreaks for the past 15 years... if you listen to any tribe called quest you're bound to come across a grant green late 60s model sample...

so what about green is beautiful? i dig it....its still grant green.. society can beat down a person like grant green but once you give him a guitar he's still the same genius.. still the same original style... to me, as i've written before, grant green plays the guitar like charlie parker plays sax.. note by note by note.. rarely if ever does he plays chords.. he just solos...and boy can he fly....the smoking 10 minute funk workout on james brown's "aint' it funky now" is my favorite track on "green is beautiful" (when you hear this version its so hot you can't help but hear james brown singing "ain't if funky now" in your head)..the album features idris muhammad (formerly leo morris) on drums and anything with idris is pretty great funk jazz!.. most of the sampling of late 60s blue note is actually sampling the drum beats of idris (he's on a ton of classics from this period starting with alligator bogaloo with donaldson).. .. the "a day in the life" is interesting but somewhat perfunctory and you have to feel grant green was recording this cause thats what he was told would be convenient.. the song could have easily been 5 minutes intead of 9.. green keeps going over and over the same paul mcartney chorus "woke up fell out of bed" which can be a bit unnerving....... the "what the world needs now is love" mandatory bacharach cover is allright but nothing too great.. the "windjammer" and "dracula" tracks are pretty sweet though and were contributed by green's keyboard player on the session: neal creque... you could argue that this album perfectly encapsulates what blue note had become in the late 60s.. pretty safe stuff with a beatles cover, james brown and bacharach cover... the "ain't if funky now" is brilliant though and worth the price of admission alone...i still say this is one of the worse lp covers ever on blue note (but by the late 60s without the wolff/miles duo photographing and designing the covers..well things had fallen apart in that departmenet with the ocasional winner of course)... i would much rather have seen a cover with grant green in some late 60s garb than this cartoon of what looks like grant green ten years ago..

the life story of grant green like that of hank mobley is a very tragic one......grant green deserved a lot better from life.. i think all the kicks people like me get from listening to his music now, somehow, validates his life

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