Grant Green is an underappreciated jazz guitar genius. Less flamboyant than his more famous contemporary, Wes Montgomery, St. Louis-born Green pioneered his own distinctive style that was almost minimalist by comparison. Often eschewing chords in favour of single note, horn-like, melodic lines, Green played with a mixture of judicious economy and good taste. He is mostly remembered for two fertile yet stylistically contrasting stints at Blue Note Records. The first Blue Note spell, between 1960 and 1965, found Green playing bop-influenced straight ahead jazz while during the second, spanning the years 1969-1972, he reinvented himself as an R&B and funk player. Two new and exciting Grant Green archival releases from the Resonance label – first released back in April on vinyl LP as limited edition Record Store Day specials – are now available on CD.
‘Funk In France…’ is a 2-CD set that includes six cuts recorded in front of a live audience in a Paris studio (and broadcast on French TV) in October 1969 during a rare European tour. Green is accompanied by bassist Larry Ridley and drummer, Don Lamond, who offer sympathetic support throughout. It opens with Green serving up his own full-throttle take on James Brown’s verbose-titled self-determinist funk anthem, ‘I Don’t Want Nobody To Give Me Nothing (Open Up The Door I’ll Get It Myself).’ After this, though, Green’s trio dig into a hard-swinging straight ahead groove, reviving a couple of Sonny Rollins’ classic songs, ‘Oleo’ and ‘Sonnymoon For Two.’ Green also touches on bossa nova with ‘How Insensitive’ and demonstrates his prowess with delicate ballads on the lovely and subdued, ‘I Wish You Love,’ which features a cameo from fellow American fretboard master, Barney Kessel. Interestingly, the Paris performances give us a clearer picture of Grant Green’s skills and all-round ability than most of his albums (and you probably hear him play more chords here than on all his Blue Note albums combined).
In addition to the Paris recordings, ‘Funk In France…’ is bolstered with four tracks recorded nine months later in July 1970 at the Antibes Jazz Festival. By this time, Green had a different travelling band – Claude Bartee on sax, Clarence Palmer on organ, and drummer, Billy Wilson. They open up with an 18-minute funk juggernaut called ‘Upshot’ (originally featured on Green’s ‘Carry On’ LP) whose style mirrors the content of Green’s Blue Note albums at the time (two versions of this tune are included, the second recorded two days later). In the early 60s, Green used to cover jazz standards but by the ’70s, he was covering R&B hits of the day. His inclusion of jazz-infused covers of Little Anthony & The Imperials’ ‘Hurt So Bad’ and Tommy Tucker’s ‘Hi Heel Sneakers’ reflect his new direction.
An even deeper R&B vibe infuses Resonance’s second Green offering, ‘Slick! Live At Oil Can Harry’s.’ Though the venue’s name sounds like a fictional one taken from a bad movie, it actually existed and could be found in Vancouver, Canada. ‘Slick!…’ captures Green and his band (comprising pianist Emmanuel Riggins, bassist Ronnie Ware – who plays a prominent role in the band – drummer Greg ‘Vibrations’ Williams, and percussionist Gerald Izzard) there in September 1975. By that time, Green had left Blue Note. His set here is a curious melange of differnet things – he starts off with pure bebop in the shape of Charlie Parker’s ‘Now’s The Time,’ moves into bossa nova territory (serving up an epic 24-minute version of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s ‘How Insensitive’), and then offers an eccentric but thoroughly absorbing 14-minute medley that fuses Stanley Clarke’s short, dreamy, effects-laden fusion ballad, ‘Vulcan Princess,’ with the Ohio Player’s high-voltage, bass-heavy funk anthem, ‘Skin Tight.’ It then morphs into Bobby Womack’s soul groove, ‘Woman’s Gotta Have It.’
Another, longer, medley closes the album: an unlikely marriage of Stevie Wonder’s jaunty ‘Boogie On Reggae Woman’ and the O’Jays’ Gamble & Huff-penned funk classic, ‘For The Love Of Money,’ which is rendered at an insanely frenetic pace. Stylistically, these are two very different, contrasting songs, of course, but Green and his cohorts convincingly fuse them together in an energetic and enjoyable way.
Both of these live Grant Green albums are mastered by the legendary Bernie Grundman, which guarantees optimum high quality sound, and like all Resonance releases, they are projects that have been lovingly put together. The artwork and packaging are both superlative and for those listeners wishing to delve into the history of Grant Green and the provenance of these two rare recordings, copious, forensically-detailed liner notes from various music experts will give plenty of insight and information. So, if you’re into Grant Green, these two albums should be at the very top of your shopping list – and even if you’re not a fan, if you have a taste for jazz-funk or funky jazz, then these are seriously worth investigating.