Blue Note has reissued guitarist Grant Green's recordings with Sonny Clark on piano, made originally for that label in December 1961 and January 1962. These recordings were recently available again on Mosaic in a stylish limited edition that sold out quickly. Many more listeners will have the opportunity now to catch these wonderful sessions, whose history has been a bit obscure.
Although they were recorded in the early '60s, these sides hit paydirt in the U.S. first in 1980 ( Nigeria ) and in Japan ( Gooden's Corner ) and the following year ( Oleo ). Three additional tracks appeared for the first time in 1989 with the three albums in the Mosaic box. One reason these recordings lay dormant so long appears to be the fact that Green was recording at a phenomenal rate in the early '60s. Blue Note had too much good stuff from him, classic albums such as Grantstand, Born to Be Blue, Feelin' the Spirit and Idle Moments.
This new 2-CD set comes with insightful liner notes from the three releases of 1979-80, written by Ben Sidran, Michael Cuscuna and Bob Porter. These three annotators consistently stress the importance of recognizing Green's accomplishments on modern jazz guitar and his status as fellow contributor to the idiom with his contemporaries Wes Montgomery, George Benson, and Gabor Szabo, all of whom enjoyed the commercial success that Green never received, despite his attempts to "go commercial" in the last several years of his short life (Green died in 1979 at 48).
These recordings with Sonny Clark are especially worth considering because Clark's career and fate paralleled Green's so closely. Having battled addiction and other health problems, Clark died in 1963 at 32. Yet he was one of the most heralded players on his instrument at the time he and Green recorded. Green and Clark were among the Blue Note all stars of the '60s, keeping solid company with the likes of Lee Morgan, Wayne Shorter, Hank Mobley, Paul Chambers, and others on dozens of recordings now regarded as definitive in the transition from hard bop to post bop. The fact that master drummer Art Blakey appears with Green and Clark (and the fine bassist Sam Jones) on the first seven tracks of this set confirms the guitarist's and pianist's power of attraction.
The 19 selections that comprise the two discs are mainly standards drawn from the Great American songbook. The Gershwins, Cole Porter, Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein, and even Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer ("Moon River") are represented. Yet Sonny Rollins's talents as a composer furnish some of the most exciting and intruiging performances by Green's quartets (Louis Hayes takes over the percussion duties from Blakey on a dozen cuts). Rollins' pieces "Airegin" and "Oleo" interestingly are each presented in master and alternate takes, the only tunes accorded such attention in the set. Green's own compositions "Gooden's Corner," "Two for One," and "Hip Funk," all on Disc Two, showcase his bluesy ability to find a groove and swing solidly in it.
In a recent blindfold-type test in a major magazine, a hip young guitarist enthusiastically identified Green's sound on guitar instantly. He was right in recognizing Green's clear, ringing tone and bright angles of articulation. In abundant evidence on The Complete Quartets with Sonny Clark is the lesson he's already passed on to a couple of generations of jazz guitarists: economy. Green's solos are models of concision and coherence. Much the same could be said about the performances of Sonny Clark, who might remind later listeners of his contemporaries Hank Jones, Tommy Flanagan, and Barry Harris, though Clark was definitely his own man, particularly in his elegant and soulful approach.
It is good to have these outstanding sessions in circulation again. Grant Green and Sonny Clark still deserve our attention, our enjoyment, and our praise.