Monday, 27 May 2013

Review: Grant Green - Feelin' The Spirit

'Feelin' The Spirit' is one of the many many sessions Green recorded for Blue Note in his early 60's workaholic period. It falls easily into the category of 'flawed gem', but with the emphasis more on the gem than the flaws.

Grant Greens best albums are without a doubt his straight jazz works, particularly those in a trio or quartet setting where his guitar gets to shine in the spotlight – usually spectacularly. His perhaps less interesting work is usually the novelty themed music sometimes passed his way. Never bad by any means, they are his sometime lesser successful recordings. ‘Feelin’ The Spirit’, following on from gospel (‘Sunday Mornin’), Latin (‘The Latin Bit’) and country and folk (‘Goin’ West’), is one of the most successful of these, focusing on jazz interpretations of African-American spiritiual hymms.

The key to Greens on-going popularity - apart from his unique sound, the complexity in his lines and his uniformly excellent playing – is the fact that everything he recorded is so instantly accessible. Never does he become indulgent or play overly experimentally, everything he plays and solos with is always melodic and musical, even his lesser rated works. And the same is true here.

Green is suitably inspired and fired up throughout, his solos arpeggio-like as the rapid notes are repeated to create a hypnotic and captivating figure, with his backup providing energetic support. A young Herbie Hancock on piano in particular makes sure to steal every possible moment he can, very almost taking the show away from Green. The highlight here, ‘Joshua Fit The Battle Of Jericho’, is a case in point. Eight minutes of pure soulful beauty, and Hancock’s piano solo is just sublime.

The overall feel of the album is much like the cover photo, a musician, shrouded in darkness and a thick haze of cigarette smoke, moved by the music even as it emerges, with a special emotional punch to gospel pieces such as ‘Go Down Moses’. And it’s this atmosphere that makes the music here so satisfying. Everyone here sounds moved and emotionally inspired by the spiritual tunes and they bear repeated listens incredibly.

This recording is far from perfect however and does have some very clear faults. One or two of the longer improvisations do go on for just that bit too long, so that when they end you find yourself more relieved rather than elated – in fact there is more than one solo here where the player clearly suddenly seems to simply run out of ideas, but continues on regardless. The worst aspect by far though is that apart from the excellent support from Hancock, and Butch Warren and Billy Higgins, on bass and drums respectively, Garvin Masseaux’s sole role here is to play the tambourine, and seemingly with no real instruction. It’s a fairly empty contribution and it adds absolutely nothing. In fact it even gets in the way of the other musicians more than just a few times. A distracting nuisance, it’s a real head-scratcher as to why anyone suggested his presence in the first place.

‘Feelin’ The Spirit’ is nearly up there with ‘Sunday Mornin’’ as transcending the themed ideas handed to Grant Green and, despite it’s flaws, is an emotional and spiritual jazz work. It shows yet another successful side to the man and is well-worth hearing.


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