Grant Green: Grant Green: The Complete Quartets with Sonny Clark – 1961-62

Marc Davis By

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With no other soloists to distract the listener, the 19 tracks are pure piano-and- guitar nirvana.
Imagine if someone discovered a stash of unreleased Beatles records 15 years after they broke up. Then imagine Apple Records released all that music in a 2-CD set.

That's what Grant Green: The Complete Quartets with Sonny Clark is like.

I exaggerate, but not by much. Grant Green wasn't the Beatles of jazz. But for about five years in the early-to mid-1960s, he was arguably the best jazz guitarist around. He was in the same class as Wes Montgomery and Kenny Burrell, though not as widely recognized.

And Green was outrageously prolific. From 1961 to 1966, he recorded a ridiculous 20 albums as a leader. He also played as a sideman on 14 more Blue Note albums—in 1963 alone! Forget Art Blakey and Horace Silver. Grant Green might just be the most-recorded artist in Blue Note's history—and also the most unsung.

In his prime, Green released some pretty fantastic records: Grant's First Stand in 1961, Grantstand in 1962, The Latin Bit in 1963, Am I Blue in 1964 and my personal favorite, Idle Moments in 1965. If he recorded nothing else, those records alone would place him among the greats of modern jazz guitar.

Trouble is, Green recorded so many sessions, Blue Note couldn't keep up, so lots of terrific recordings sat in the vault. Then Green went in a different direction in the late '60s and '70s, becoming more commercial and less interesting. Finally, he died in 1979.

But a funny thing happened after Green's death. Blue Note realized it was sitting on a treasure trove of great unreleased records. And so, in 1979 and 1980, the label put out three outstanding Grant Green records that were made in 1961 and 1962: Nigeria, Gooden's Corner and Oleo. All three feature Green's crystal-clear guitar and Sonny Clark's magnificent piano.

Today, all three records are available on the 2-CD Complete Quartets set. If you love bop generally or jazz guitar specifically, you must own this.

With no other soloists to distract the listener, the 19 tracks are pure piano-and-guitar nirvana. Grant plays his trademarked single-note runs, light and tasteful, always sweet. Clark's piano is the very definition of hard bop swing.

The collection runs the gamut from wistful ballads to hard rocking blues. My favorite track? "It Ain't Necessarily So" turns the George Gershwin chestnut inside out. Green never even states the melody directly. From the get-go, he's reinventing the familiar tune. Green and Clark turn the old, overly familiar melody into a down-and-dirty blues workout. And it works—for 10 inspired minutes, including a couple of unexpected but delightful quotes of Dizzy Gillespie's "Birk's Works" on piano.

Another favorite: the wistful, languid "Nancy (With the Laughing Face)." The Frank Sinatra vocal version always struck me as sappy. But in the hands of this modest jazz quartet, it is a sad tear-jerker with a beautiful melody.

There's more to Complete Quarters, of course—mostly inventive takes on standards by Sonny Rollins, Cole Porter, Oscar Hammerstein, Sammy Cahn and more. Even Henry Mancini's trite "Moon River" gets a nice re-interpretation.

While The Complete Quartets may not be the all-time best Grant Green, it's a remarkable find and a worthy addition to any jazz collection.

Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)

Availability: Easy to get, but not a cheapo

Cost: $10 used, $17 new

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