Thursday, 30 January 2014

Review: Grant Green - The Complete Quartets With Sonny Clark

Grant Green, one of the most recorded lead artists on the Blue Note rosters, died unexpectedly from a heart attack in 1979 at the age of just forty-three. At the time of his death, despite an impressive and impressively sized recording output, Green reportedly had more than some dozen sessions unreleased. Not shelved due to quality, but often simply because of the perceived lack of commercialism of certain projects, and also because his prolific time in the studio had simply generated a lot of music - an unbelievable twenty-two albums recorded between ’61 and ’64 as leader alone.

Of these apparently ‘less commercial’ works, Green had recorded three albums worth of material between ’61 and ‘62 with pianist Sonny Clark, star of the classic ‘Cool Struttin’’ among many others. Clark of course also died young, aged only thirty-one, in 1963, and yet these three sessions went unreleased, for almost twenty years, until just after Greens death.

A major mistake was made in keeping these hidden away for so long, as together the two men had clearly musically hit it off and made something far greater than just the sum of their two formidable parts. No horns of any kind here, just a line-up of guitar, piano, bass and drums form a relaxed and elegant style that shows the two at their most comfortable. Released finally in 1980, as the three sets ‘Nigeria’, ‘Gooden’s Corner’ and ‘Oleo’, here they are collected together as one superb two-disc set.

And simply, if you’ve ever liked anything either man has recorded, you should own this. A cool atmosphere pervades the recordings, while Greens riffs are silky smooth and played to perfection. Clark displays a wide range full of blues styles and plays in a nicely understated fashion. And joining them are Sam Jones on bass, and alternately Art Blakey and Louis Hayes on drums.

The material is, save three Green originals, largely made up of standards played to their peak, such as ‘On Green Dolphin Street’, ‘The Song Is You’, Sonny Rollins’ ‘Oleo’ and ‘Airegin’ and Cole Porters ‘What Is This Thing Called Love’. The originals too are excellent, but best of all is a take on ‘My Favourite Things’, of which oddly Green also recorded a different version for another great album that went for many years unreleased; ‘Matador’.

There’s simply nothing here to dislike, and the hugely likeable easy-going mood and playing are enhanced by the passion and soul that comes through it all. For such a collection of ‘unreleased material’, this is breathtakingly just some of Greens best work, and no Clark fan should be without them either. This is essential guitar-led jazz.


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