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Grant Green: Matador

Matt Marshall By

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Grant Green
Matador
Blue Note / Music Matters
2009 (1964)

This may be the reissue of 2009: a resplendent vinyl pressing of guitarist Grant Green's Matador on two 180-gram, 45-rpm records from Music Matters. This May 1964 recording was, like many Blue Note sets, not released until many years later (November 1979 in Japan in this case) and only reached the U.S. on CD in 1990. It has not been remastered since. The record teams Green with two-thirds of saxophonist John Coltrane's rhythm section of the time—pianist McCoy Tyner and drummer Elvin Jones—plus bassist Bob Cranshaw. The result is nothing less than Green's best album.

The quartet kicks off with the Green original, "Matador," a tune of tempered momentum with Green spinning off his trademark crisp, biting lines over the easy swinging rhythm section. The warm, energetic yet controlled mood may have inspired the tune's title, although the repeated theme at open and close also rumbles with an impressionistic Spanish feel, recalling the bullfight's pasodoble. (Green seemed somewhat enthused with—or, at least, fascinated by—bullfighting at the time, penning the likewise exotic, though more heated, "Plaza de Toros" for organist Larry Young's Into Somethin' album, recorded in November 1964, which also features Green's playing.) Tyner sweeps the sands with his trademark dusting of keys on the number—fleet, supple high-end runs, punctuated by the shifting of deep chordal blocks—creating a fluid, calming effect. And, in spots, hinting at the melody to come on track 2.

If there's an aspect that pushes Matador toward the infamous, it's this second tune: a go at the Coltrane "theme," "My Favorite Things," with half of the saxophonist's band in tow. It took some chutzpah not only to attempt it, but for Green to make the tune his own in this setting without charging decidedly and awkwardly into some far off field of free-jazz experimentation. Green's tone is full, his feel relaxed, as he breezes through the melodic turns before attacking his solo with increased grit and chop, while never losing the comfortable rhythmic feel. His solo stretches out bar after bar, building its intensity unhurriedly through waves of repeatedly sketched chordal figures and bluesy, two-note hammering—a wholly satisfying, sustained and strong release of emotion that culminates naturally with a return to the melody. The Tyner solo that follows is more lively and fluid than his turn on the 1961 Coltrane recording, implying an active engagement with these favorite things rather than the heavy, harmonic clang felt from things lost or slipping away. Still, the tune is almost impossible to cover without relaying something of the anxiety that knits into the feelings we attach to that which we possess, or would like to.

"Green Jeans," another of the guitarist's originals, moves the record into lighter, more amiable fare. Both Green and Tyner solo more freely than on the previous two tracks—Green jangling even in a fit of joyous momentum—to stretch the playful melody to its fullest effect. Duke Pearson's "Bedouin," however, returns the mood to somberness for the close, invoking, as Michael Cuscuna indicates in the liner notes, the Asiatic feel of the nomadic Bedouins. Green's solo here reprises the repetition of arpeggiated figures used to such fine effect in "My Favorite Things." But the highlight is Jones' lone solo of the album, stepping directly from Tyner's sweeping fluidity to craft a wholly musical, polyrhythmic statement that follows an organic progression—or regression—into the most elemental of drumming's voices, ending in a tom-tom beat that wholly deconstructs the tune. When the group joins Jones to restate the theme the melody feels rejuvenated, recreated.

And speaking of recreations, the new album cover for this release, designed by Chris Mousdale from a Francis Wolff image, replaces the black line drawing on a deep steel-blue field from the CD with a bold red attack, more accurately capturing the blood-sport theater the record's title suggests and the pulsing urgency of much of the musical poetry contained within its grooves. A smoldering passion chortles for release: musica maestro!


Tracks: Disc One: Matador; My Favorite Things. Disc Two: Green Jeans; Bedouin.

Personnel: Grant Green, guitar; McCoy Tyner, piano; Bob Cranshaw, bass; Elvin Jones, drums.

Year Released: 2009 | Style: Straight-ahead/Mainstream


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