Grant Green’s ‘Matador’ was recorded in 1964 during his prolific four-year frenzy at Blue Note, where he recorded over twenty sessions under his own name (and many more as a sideman) for producer Alfred Lion. ‘Matador’ though is one of those many sessions that went unreleased for a good many years until after Greens premature death. Finally given a Japan-only release in 1979, it eventually went on to get the first of a few issues in the rest of the world in 1990. And again it’s another head scratcher as to why this recording took so long to see the light of day.
Teamed with two of John Coltrane’s famed quartet rhythm section, McCoy Tyner on piano and Elvin Jones on drums, as well as Sonny Rollins regular Bob Cranshaw on bass, this is not only one of the best of Green’s unreleased works, but one of the best of all of his works.
The Green original ‘Matador’ leads, with an easy going rhythm - the mood one of smouldering energy, which surely inspired the pieces title, along with the theme that opens and closes helping to convey a subtlebut smouldering Spanish feel. Green seemed to possess more than just a passing interest in Spain around this time, also writing the similarly themed ‘Plaza De Toros for Larry Young’s ‘Into Somethin’’ album – which Green also played on. McCoy Tyner plays some supple runs that work to create a calming effect, and you’d swear you can hear some small hints in his playing of the next song to come.
An ambitious gamble makes the second track here, with Green deciding to tackle John Coltrane’s famous personal theme ‘My Favorite Things’. Playing with half of Coltrane’s band, Green none-the-less recasts the tune into his own, with a typically relaxed breezy take on the melody, before attacking a solo with gusto, but never losing the easy rhythm. Building in unhurried intensity, it’s an emotive release before returning relaxed and natural to the main melody. Tyner’s solo that follows is one of his best, and is if anything better than the more famous one he recorded on Coltrane’s well-known version. A brave move to take on another artists signature work, and especially one as revered as Coltrane, Green none-the-less succeeds with flying colours, and any comparisons that are to be invited are wholly favourable.
‘Green Jeans’ is an altogether lighter and freer piece, with Green sounding upbeat and playful, before ‘Bedouin’ takes us back to a more moody setting. Elvin Jones’ only solo of the album here is pure gold, and when the rest of the band come back in, full-tilt, they sound euphoric and brimming with renewed energy. In contrast, the oddly tacked-on cover of Burt Bacharach’s ‘Wives And Lovers’ is best described as ‘not bad’. Pleasant enough, it sounds good, but is not a patch on the four excellent tunes that go before it, and is by no means indispensible.
Seemingly treated (by the record label at least) as one of the lesser Green articles in his sizeable canon, with poor attention to more up-to-date remastering and even the artwork (it’s nice enough, but rivals ‘Iron City’ as the blandest, most personality-free Green album art), it is simply one of his best. Great tunes handled with skill and a real feeling for the music, it deserves serious re-evaluation and a more lovingly handled restoration work. After Green’s more famous and highly regarded work, you should immediately check this out.