Grant Green: Matador

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Few Blue Note artists seem to have been squeezed the way Grant Green was. Ten of the albums he recorded in the 1960s entered the label's Bermuda Triangle, emerging years later when Blue Note was under new management and the archives were being mined. It's hard to know how Green's career might have been different if all of these albums had reached the marketplace.

One of Green's intended albums that didn't see the light of day for some time was Matador. Recorded in May 1964, the album featured a spectacular quartet— Grant Green (g), McCoy Tyner (p), Bob Cranshaw (b) and Elvin Jones (d). At the time, Tyner and Jones were part of the John Coltrane Quartet and Cranshaw was a prolific sideman. By Matador's recording session five months into the year, Cranshaw had already played on recording sessions for eight albums. Matador didn't come out until 1979.

The album's tracks were Green's Matador, My Favorite Things, Green's Green Jeans and Duke Pearson's Bedouin. Burt Bacharach's Wives and Lovers was recorded during Green's Solid session in June '64 and added as a bonus track on Matador in the CD era.

Listening to the album now, one can hear possible reasons for the album being held. First, there were just four tracks recorded rather than Blue Note's preferred five or six. Second, on My Favorite Things, Green repeats the same phrase so often you are left wondering whether the recording is stuck or skipping. This happened again on Bedouin. Green was seemingly unsure what to do next.

Meanwhile, Tyner unleashes a staggering solo on each song, building richly toward a crescendo. Given his miraculous solos, one could argue it was Tyner's session with Green as a sideman. And third, problems with the material may have run out the clock in the studio. Green Jeans took 17 takes and Bedouin took 29.

Nevertheless, hearing Green's picking and Tyner's stormy attack in a quartet setting is a wonderful thing. Add Jones's bottom-heavy drums and Cranshaw's darting bass and you have thrilling energy and exciting risk-taking. Whatever Green's problem was as he struggled to get off the mark on the recording session, Tyner more than made up for the wheel-spinning with his hypnotic, percussive piano.

Grant Green died in 1979.

JazzWax clips: Here's the entire album in tracks...

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
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