While the history books will more than likely survey the lineage of jazz guitar by focusing on such technically dazzling plectrists as Wes Montgomery, Joe Pass, and Kenny Burrell, a wider view with a focus on peripheral talents will likely support the fact that instrumental proficiency is but a mere part of the overall success of an artist. So while not the astounding showman that Montgomery was, Grant Green was no less a vital guitarist and one who could generate his own sense of interest with a stinging sound, an intensely melodic sense displayed in flowing single note runs, and a soulfully direct approach that spoke to the heart more so than simply the mind.
Initially brought to the attention of Blue Note Records by saxophonist Lou Donaldson, Green would cut his first record for the label in 1961 and over the course of the next decade or so he would build a distinctive catalog that ranks with some of the best jazz guitar ever recorded. Now for the first time, Blue Note puts the spotlight on his most vital recordings in a four-disc set that covers quite a bit of ground while also bringing to light a few tracks that have never been heard on CD.
The first two discs cover sessions that Green made with organ combos both as a leader and as a sideman. Even on “Blues For Willarene” and “Baby’s Minor Lope,” both from Green’s maiden voyage, the idiosyncratic single note lines that would become Green’s trademark are plainly in evidence and the way that the guitarist interacts with Baby Face Willette is simply a notch above the typical organ combo fare. But Green would develop an especially unified relationship with organ man ‘Big’ John Patton as heard on such gems as “The Silver Meter,” “Let ‘Em Roll,” The Yodel,” and “Soul Woman,” the last two tracks coming from the as yet unissued Patton session Got a Good Thing Goin’.
As if the simpatico team work of Green and Patton was not enough to satisfy your appetite, all but the first two cuts from disc two are devoted to Green’s work with another organist of note, namely Larry Young. Possibly it’s on these often forward-looking performances that one gets a fuller picture of Green’s true range as an artist, Young’s Coltrane-inflected intensity clearly providing a unique catalyst for some of Green’s most incendiary moments, particularly on “Plaza De Toros” and “Talkin’ About J.C.”
On disc three we hear yet another side of Green’s personality, in sparse trio settings, with Latin percussionists, and in quartets with piano. Although it might have seemed gimmicky at the time, Green’s decision to record a whole album of spirituals ( Feelin’ the Spirit ) was a wise one and again we hear him at his best, supported so delightfully by Herbie Hancock and Billy Higgins. Another concept album with western themes (the still out-of-print Goin’ West ) at the fore brings us “I Can’t Stop Loving You” and it too is a minor gem.
The concluding disc puts Green in some larger ensembles and it would be hard to quibble with the choices made here. Tracks from Green’s own “Idle Moments” and “Solid” are intermingled with sideman appearances on albums by Hank Mobley, Lee Morgan, Stanley Turrentine, Horace Parlan, and Ike Quebec. Even amidst the horn and rhythm instruments, Green’s crystalline tone cuts through it all and speaks with an authority that no other guitarist could have really challenged.
Remastered in 24-bit sound and including a 32-page booklet with commentary and Frank Wolff session photos, this retrospective does indeed touch on some of Green’s most significant work. While fanatics will probably have or will eventually want to have it all in its entirety, there is no single better introduction to Green’s work for those neophytes dipping their feet into the waters for the first time.
Personnel: Grant Green (guitar) with Herbie Hancock, Larry Young, Horace Parlan, Ike
Quebec, Big John Patton, Jimmy Smith, etc.