Monday, 9 September 2013

Review: Grant Green - Iron City

Grant Green’s distinctive single note guitar had played on a variety of well-received and still highly-regarded Blue Note releases between 1960 and ’65. For the best part of four years after that purple patch however he was unfortunately lost to the debilitiating effects of an on-going battle with heroin. It wouldn’t be until 1969 that he would be heard from again.

Not that the drug years were entirely unproductive. Green recorded a small number of albums, of which at least one is known to remain unreleased. ‘Iron City’, recorded with old band-mates John Patton and Ben Dixon, was recorded in the middle of his bad patch, in 1967. Unreleased for five years, it then appeared for the first time on the small Cobblestone Records in 1972 when Green was now back on the Blue Note roster.

A mostly up-tempo set; it’s one of Greens funkiest efforts, with the title track being one of the catchiest pieces he’s ever written - Patton and Dixons organ and drums combining and aligning perfectly to form a deep heads-down groove. Luiz Bonfa’s perhaps over-played ‘Samba De Orfeu’ is covered, but in such a harder funkier style, renamed ‘Samba De Opheus’ it’s almost unrecognisable and, for the purposes of this album, to really great effect.

‘Work Song’ and ‘High Heeled Sneakers’ are solid soul-jazz numbers that each gets a good ferocious gloves-off workout from Green’s trio, while ‘Motherless Child’ in contrast is the sole slower piece, with a strong blue atmosphere, played gently and subtley by the group. The best piece though is easily ‘Old Man Moses’, a song Green first played on 1962’s ‘Feelin’ The Spirit’ in a very different style and take to the version here. An almost gospel sounding funk, the group are uniformly excellent, with special mention going to Patton, who puts in arguably one of his best ever and most-sampled performances.

A strong and bright sound enhances the material and playing on the entire record. The two guest players, and their technique, in particular are brought out shiningly. For many, Green’s ‘last great performance’, it is arguably also his best organ trio work. After his proper return to duty in ’69, his output would be sporadic and patchy, and although occasional high-points would occur, Green’s best work, at least from a jazz view, was easily behind him. Why ‘Iron City’ remained unreleased for so long before it first saw the light of day is unknown. Regardless it was a mistake and, now more widely available, this should be sought out by any admirers of Green.

Iron City artworks - or at least the two most popular ones. Due to existing on a small label that's changed hands a dozen times, it has multiple covers. These two are the most common.

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