Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Grant Green - Two New Recordings from Resonance Records

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“But it wasn't just this astonishing fecundity that set him apart; Green's guitar playing was decidedly one-of-a-kind. His playing had a dark, horn-like tone and rich, blued-tinged lyricism that made his single-note solos instantly identifiable. His playing could be edgy and aggressive enough to hold its own against the toughest tenors, but it also had a remarkable delicacy, a finesse that made his style akin to a form of speech.”
J.D. Considine

George Klabin, Zev Feldman, Heidi Kalison and the other members of the team at Resonance Records are proudly carrying on the tradition of small, independent Jazz record companies, a list that includes, among many other  
owner-operators:Milt Gabler of Commodore Records, Bob Weinstock of Prestige, Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff of Blue Note Records, Les Koenig of Contemporary Records, Richard Bock of Pacific Jazz, Max and Sol Weiss of Fantasy Records, Joe Fields and Don Schlitten of Cobblestone and Muse Records, Orrin Keepnews of Riverside, Jazzland, Milestone and Landmark, and Carl Jefferson of Concord Records.

One can’t help wondering what the state of recorded Jazz would have been through the years without the efforts and resources of such courageous [crazy?] individuals?

In recognition for all they do for the music, Resonance Records was recently voted best Jazz Recording Company by the Jazz Journalist Association, the second year-in-a-row that it has been accorded this distinction.

George brings some unique qualities to the recordings that Resonance issues having been a recording engineer himself, as well as, a producer of Jazz concerts and a manager of Jazz musicians and vocalists.

And while the number of recordings that Resonance releases each year is perhaps not on a scale as many of its esteemed predecessors, very few Jazz records are of the quality of those issued by George’s company in terms of a spectacular format made up of beautiful color graphics, superb black and white photographs of the represented artists as taken by leading Jazz photographers, thick insert note booklets jammed package with information, interviews, annotations and observations by some of the leading writers on a variety of Jazz subjects and topics, and, of course, the music itself rendered in the highest audio quality available.

Put another way, George’s spares no expense - including compensating the surviving family or estate of the artist, paying the musicians who appear on these dates and banking the necessary royalties - in putting together a final product that he can be proud of and that you can enjoy from a number of audio-visual perspectives.

Two new releases by guitarist Grant Green [1935-1979] continue this Resonance Records tradition of excellence: Funk In France: Paris And Antibes (1969-1970) [HCD-2033] and Slick! Live At Oil Can Harry's [HCD-2034].

J.D. Considine provides an interesting examination of the place of these recordings in Grant’s career in his essay Grant Green ‘Taking It’ to a Climax which appears in the July 2018 edition of Downbeat. Following the Considine piece, you’ll find a Resonance Records produced video entitled: The Evolution of Grant Green's Funk (Funk in France/Slick! Live at Oil Can Harry's)

© -J.D. Considine and Downbeat, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“In the decades since Grant Green's music was rediscovered by DJs like Gilles Peterson and acid jazz groups such as US3, and sampled by hip-hop pioneers like A Tribe Called Quest and Public Enemy, there has been a tendency to view the guitarist's career as two distinct eras.

Act One started in 1959, when he first recorded with tenor saxophonist Jimmy Forrest, and continued through the mid-'6Qs. At the time. Green (1935-'79) was a stalwart of the soulful straight ahead jazz scene, a worthy foil to such big-voiced tenor men as Ike Quebec, Stanley Turrentine and Hank Mobley, and had proven himself especially adept in the organ trio setting, having done epic work with the likes of Jimmy Smith, "Brother" Jack McDuff, Big John Patton and Larry Young.

But a decade later, when the curtain came up for Act Two, consensus on Green's output was deeply divided. Mainstream partisans largely turned up their noses at what The Penguin Guide to Jazz described as "the bland funk he chugged out." But a generation along, Green was dubbed the "Father of Acid Jazz," as DJs and funk fans scoured used record bins for copies of his long-out-of-print '70s albums, thanks to the popularity of such rare groove classics as "Maybe Tomorrow," "Down Here On The Ground," "Ain't It Funky Now" and "Sookie Sookie."

For some, this split represents the evolution of a courageous and creative artist who wasn't afraid to plug into the energy of the funk era; to others. Green's change in direction amounted to little more than pandering, as a once-great jazz musician watered down his music in the hopes of attracting a wider audience.

But with the release of two new live albums from Resonance Records — Funk In France: Paris And Antibes (1969-1970) and Slick! Live At Oil Can Harry's — that bifurcated view of Green's career now feels like an oversimplification. Although there definitely was a change in the kind of music he made, it wasn't as cut-and-dried as dropping swing in favor of funk. Nor, if the audience response on these albums is any indication, did it involve abandoning jazz fans in favor of funk kids.

Grant told Vancouver DJ Gary Barclay, "Our audiences did get younger" after the band had funked things up, but the fact was he hadn't stopped playing standards; he'd simply augmented the old tunes with new ones. As his son Greg, who performs and records as Grant Green Jr., put it, "He lived all types of music. He loved James Brown, he loved the Isley Brothers, but he loved the Beatles, you know? One thing that most people — especially jazz cats — don't realize is that all of your jazz standards were once pop standards. So, saying that it's not jazz is not true. It's your interpretation of the tune that makes it jazz."

Still, if you wanted to mark a turning point in Green's career, Feb. 17, 1969, would be as good a date as any.

Green was in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, that day, sitting with his guitar and amp in Rudy Van Gelder's studio, where he was about to record a date for Prestige with saxophonist Rusty Bryant. What they cut that day — six tracks for the album Rusty Bryant Returns, including the groover "Zoo Boogaloo," which was released as a single — doesn't matter to our story so much as the fact that the date marked Green's first recording session in almost two years.

That would have been inconceivable just a few years earlier. After he was introduced to Blue Note chief Alfred Lion by alto saxophonist Lou Donaldson in 1960, Green quickly became one of the label's most prolific players. Either as leader or sideman, Green did more than 100 sessions for the label, a feat made all the more awesome by the fact that the vast majority of those dates occurred between 1960 and 1966.

But it wasn't just this astonishing fecundity that set him apart; Green's guitar playing was decidedly one-of-a-kind. His playing had a dark, horn-like tone and rich, blued-tinged lyricism that made his single-note solos instantly identifiable. His playing could be edgy and aggressive enough to hold its own against the toughest tenors, but it also had a remarkable delicacy, a finesse that made his style akin to a form of speech.

But at the tail end of the '60s, Green wasn't saying much. Before the session with Bryant, his last recording had been a session with organist Big John Patton and drummer Ben Dixon for Cobblestone — his only studio time in all of 1967. It wasn't that he'd suddenly gone out of fashion or suffered some horrible accident that made him unable to use his hands. No, Green had a drug problem, a heroin addiction that, as it got worse, increasingly left him short on money and musicians willing to work with him. The 1999 book Grant Green: Rediscovering The Forgotten Genius Of Jazz Guitar — by Sharony Andrews Green, the guitarist's daughter-in-law — quotes clarinetist Wendell Harrison describing what it was like. "See, you'd go on the road with Grant, and you might not get but half your money," he said. "He was sick. All the money he would get would go for drugs."

In 1968, Green was busted for possession in New York. It was a minor conviction, but the guitarist made it worse by heading to California for a gig, instead of reporting to prison. U.S. Marshals arrested him and flew him back. Green's sentence was extended, and he spent most of 1968 behind bars. No wonder some saw this as the moment the curtain came down on Act One.

Once he was released from jail, Green made it plain that he hadn't lost his chops. But things had changed in the interim. Alfred Lion had relinquished his control of Blue Note, selling the label to Liberty Records and retiring to Mexico. Closer to Green's heart, Wes Montgomery —  who, along with Kenny Burrell, Green had considered the only guitarists of consequence since Charlie Christian — died. The landscape had changed, but so had Grant Green.

The first important recording date he had after Rusty Bryant was with organist Reuben Wilson, for an album called Love Bug. This session was significant for two reasons. First, it placed Green alongside a young drummer from New Orleans named Leo Morris, although he would reach more listeners under the name Idris Muhammad. Second, it was built around jazz treatments of contemporaneous pop tunes, among them the Supremes hit "I'm Gonna Make You Love Me," Sam & Dave's soul anthem "Hold On, I'm Coming" and the Burl Bacharach classic "I Say A Little Prayer."

"I came up with this idea of playing pop music with jazz," Wilson said in the book. "They used a lot of jazz musicians in Motown. They were background players. So instead of having them in the background, it was just a matter of bringing [them] to the forefront."

Green definitely dug the concept, and in October he was back at Van Gelder's studio for his first Blue Note session as a leader since 1965. Not only was he embracing Wilson's concept-there were covers of tunes by James Brown ("I Don't Want Nobody To Give Me Nothing"), the Meters ("Ease Back") and Little Anthony & The Imperials ("Hurt So Bad") — but he made sure to bring in Morris on drums again, along with Claude Bartee on tenor saxophone and Clarence Palmer on electric piano. Titled Carryin On, the album was full of enduringly funky grooves, some of which later were sampled by rap visionaries Eric B. & Rakim on their final album as a duo, 1992's Don't Sweat The Technique.

Three weeks later, Green was in France. The Office de Radiodiffusion Television Francaise had planned to shoot a "Guitar Workshop" at its Round House studio in Paris. Originally, the lineup was to have been Barney Kessel, Kenny Burrell and Tal Farlow, but Farlow was suffering from asthma and had to cancel, so the organizers brought in Green to replace him.

There was little budget for the taping, which meant Green wound up working with bassist Larry Ridley and drummer Don Lamond instead of the ensemble used to record Carryin' On. As evidenced on Funk In France, Green delivered a rousing rendition of Brown's "I Don't Want Nobody To Give Me Nothing," deftly playing off the skeletal funk groove of upright bass and drums. The interplay between Green and Ridley is wonderfully contrapuntal, as they sketch blues variations against

Lamond's lightly simmering pulse. There's even deeper interplay between Green and Ridley on an untitled, eight-minute blues number that gives the bassist tremendous room to stretch. "A lot of that funky stuff really sits well when the bass is just a tad behind the beat," said Green ]r. "When you play right on top of it, it's fine. But when you're a tad behind, it just sits better. Larry had that approach on bass, so [he] had that real grooving, laid-back feel. And it's a great thing, because not everybody can do it."

ORTF never aired the video of Green's performance, and it remained unseen until last year, when it turned up on YouTube. One of the people who saw it there was Resonance producer Zev Feldman, who tracked down and licensed the audio for legitimate release. (The music had been bootlegged before, but from low-quality copies and not the 96kHz master Feldman used.) During a search through the archives, Feldman's contacts at France's Institut national de l'audiovisuel also found a second Grant Green live recording from nine months later at the Festival International de Jazz d'Antibes Juan-les-Pins. Green's touring band with Bartee on tenor, Palmer on organ and Billy Wilson on drums played twice — for about 30 minutes on July 18 and about 45 minutes on July 20.

By that time Green had moved from his Brooklyn apartment to Detroit, where he bought a house. He continued to release studio albums of funk-infused jazz, and slowly built a bigger audience. His 1971 album Visions made it onto Billboard's pop albums chart, which is impressive given that its track listing ran the gamut from the Jackson 5 hit "Never Can Say Goodbye" to the first movement from Mozart's Symphony No. 40 in G minor.

But it would be his concert recordings that were the most enduring. Alive!, cut on Aug. 15, 1970, at the Cliche Lounge in Newark, New Jersey, used much of the Carryin' On crew, and is particularly celebrated for the generous New Orleans funk that Green and Muhammad generated on the 11-minute version of "Sookie Sookie." Then in 1972, there was Live At The Lighthouse, recorded at the Hermosa Beach, California, landmark. Again, the emphasis was on extending the groove, not simply so the players could stretch out, but also to give the audience something to react to. And react they did. On the Lighthouse track "Jan Jan," fans can be heard yelling "Go, go!" at various points during Green's solo, urging the guitarist on as he further excites the crowd.

"That thing is all about energy," Green Jr. said. "When you play like that, everybody is listening, and they're all working together to build this energy thing. And when everybody is building a groove — you know, taking it to a climax — you gotta take the audience there, too."

Slick! Live At Oil Can Harry's is Green's last known live recording, and a perfect example of that dynamic. Taken from a Sept. 5, 1975, recording made by radio station CHQM at a Vancouver night club, the one-hour performance consists of just three tracks: Charlie Parker's jump blues "Now's The Time," Antonio Carlos Jobim's melancholy bossa nova "How Insensitive (Insensatez)," and an epic jazz-funk medley that over the course of 32 minutes careens through Stanley Clarke's "Vulcan Princess," the Ohio Players' "Skin Tight," Bobby Womack's "Woman's Gotta Have It," Stevie Wonder's "Boogie On Reggae Woman" and the O'Jays' "For The Love Of Money."

After the show, Green was interviewed by CHQM's Gary Barclay, who asked the guitarist about the challenges of balancing his crossover material with jazz standards. Green acknowledged the distance between "Now's The Time" and "Skin Tight," but he viewed such eclecticism as a matter of inclusivity. "We don't want to set up some type of limitations to what we do," he said. "We want to try to get everybody .... We don't want to say we're playing 'ghetto music,' or we don't want to say we're playing 'white music' or 'black music.' We're just playing music. Because we're playing all music." DB

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