Just like rice and beans, Grant Green and Sonny Clark created a synergy that was more than the sum of its parts. Nowhere is that more apparent than on "The Complete Quartets," where there were no horns competing for solos. The elegant, laid-back style that characterizes these recordings was the one in which both Green and Clark seemed most comfortable, and it shows.
Ironically, neither Green nor Clark was around to see any of this music released. Apparently due to Green's prodigious output in the early '60's, Blue Note decided to shelve these "less commercial" recordings in favor of his more groove-oriented soul-jazz material. The wrong was corrected in 1980, when "Nigeria," "Gooden's Corner," and "Oleo" were released, combining to contain all the music found here except for a couple alternates.
My opinion is that these tunes swing as hard as anything I've heard, and that their appeal runs the gamut there is nothing not to like. Green's delicious riffs flow from his guitar like water from a glacier, and the analogy of melting ice shouldn't be lost; the mood here is so "cool" it burns. This is the type of music whose implied swing is so ferocious it has you on the edge of your seat howling with ecstasy.
The highlight of the first disc is Gershwin's chestnut "It Ain't Necessarily So," which clocks in as the longest of the set at 10:20. Drummer Art Blakey starts things off with a subtly Latin 12/8 groove as Green joins him and sympathetic bassist Sam Jones with a decidedly loose interpretation of the melody. Blakey kicks into a straight four rhythm as Green's guitar sails over the changes, accompanied by Sonny Clark's bluesy punches and full keyboard slides. Blakey, overcome with the irresistability of the music, starts hootin' and hollerin' as Clark takes his solo. Clark, like Green, is a master of understatement and uses this to full advantage by teasing the listener with half-finished motifs drenched with the blues. As he gets ready to turn the melody back over to Green, Blakey insists for him to continue - "No, go ahead, go ahead" - a revelatory glance into the atmosphere of the session.
The immensely likeable playing is augmented by excellent song selection, with some standouts being a smokin' "The Song is You," "On Green Dolphin Street," Henri Mancini's "Moon River," "Tune Up," and a "My Favorite Things" that stays much truer to the heart of the tune than any of Coltrane's more impassioned renditions. Full of intuition, soul, and swing, and lacking in pretense, "The Complete Quartets with Sonny Clark" has me asking myself"does music get any better than this?"
Personnel: GRANT GREEN, guitar; SONNY CLARK, piano; SAM JONES, bass; ART BLAKEY, drums (Disc One #1-7); LOUIS HAYES, drums (all others).