Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Review: Grant Green - Alive

Grant Green had a successful and much-loved period at the Blue Note label for a good portion of the sixties, and after struggling in his battle with drugs, and also leaving the label, he would record significantly less frequently, and to much critical derision. Changing his sound for a more funk-flavoured sound, he would play and tour often but enter the studio only sporadically. A brief return to Blue Note though would give the world a chance to hear a few of Greens always popular live gigs.

Recorded live at the Newark Lounge in New Jersey, in the summer of 1970, ‘Alive!’ would go on to be released with a meagre four tracks and a great deal of flak from his previous jazz supporters. A cult hit though with the funk audience of the day, and then a massive hit for the later sample-heavy acid-jazz crowd, Blue Note have since re-released the album with several major and worthwhile improvements.

Kool & The Gangs ‘Let The Music Take Your Mind’ still opens the show with a storming funk - the energy and groove of the band oozing from the speakers – with ‘Time To Remember’ offering us a more intimate and gentle side of Greens sextet. ‘Sookie Sookie’ is, if not famous in name, then is certainly to be familiar to many, being one of the most popular of Greens tracks to be remixed and sampled, and is a pure ten minutes of infectiouc head-nodding groove. ‘Down Here On The Ground’ that closed the original LP instead gives us something poignant and beautiful, with everyone playing in absolute harmony.

The first and most obvious of the enhancements to this live document are the three extra cuts. ‘Hey Western Union Man’, The Isley Brothers ‘It’s Your Thing’ and Herbie Hancocks ‘Maiden Voyage’ are all excellent, smoking tracks, every bit as strong as the tunes that made up the original relase, if not stronger. And inevitably it’s a complete head-scratcher as to why these went unreleased for so long, and asks the question as to just how much Grant Green is there still unissued?

Better still, there are no fake and obvious attempts to make this sound ‘more live’ by tacking on some stock audience clapping and hollering as each number fades out. Instead the band plays out to a gradual fade. While a whole night with no fading would have been best, this way is much preferable and much less intrusive.

The sound too is greatly improved, with all the instruments perfectly positioned in the mix, and no one player drowning out anyone else contribution. Close your eyes too and you’ll think you’re there in the lounge, small snippets of genuine audience noise in the background coming out and occasionally the odd ice clink in the glass.

‘Alive!’ is not a great Grant Green recording - fans of his sixties bop and soul-jazz work will find a much different sound here and therefore are really best advised against it. Most of the pieces are repetitive, modal and highly-rhythmic grooves that although occasionally monotonous, are frequently hypnotic and captivating; ‘Sookie Sookie’ in particular is transcendant. The original release is very much a less than essential release due to several mistakes made after the recording of the event, but this newer version is much better. Green himself is very good here, but often feels like he is just a player in the band rather than the star or leader, with the thumbs-ups definitely going to Joe Armstrong on the congas that pepper the rhythm everywhere, Claude Bartee on sax, and both Ronnie Foster and Neal Creque on organ.

A solid and funky album, it’s a good live recording full of great jams, licks and vamps. Not as musically interesting as Greens earlier jazz work for sure, it none-the-less is good-time fun music that’ll have the body moving to its skillful rhythms and grooves, and on those terms comes well-recommended.


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