Blue Note Records probably owes Grant Green's family an apology. The guitarist was the finest jazz guitarist of the 1960s, topped only by Wes Montgomery. Today, virtually Green's entire discography has made it into the digital age. But it may surprise many that a good number of his albums for Blue Note weren't released during his lifetime, including his first. By my count, nine as a leader were shelved for reasons that escape me. These albums include First Session, Remembering, Gooden's Corner, Nigeria, Oleo, Born to Be Blue, Blues for Lou, Matador and Solid.
Perhaps there were flaws in the music or recordings I can't detect. Or perhaps Blue Note recorded him so often as a sideman that they figured his leadership releases would saturate the market and could wait. Or perhaps Blue Note had released too many albums and couldn't afford to support them all. I can only assume that holding back so many leadership albums can do a number on an artist's head. Either way, holding back so many leadership recordings seems unfair and was likely solely a business decision without regard for the artist.
Between 1967 and '69, Green succumbed to drug problems, resulting in an arrest and a prison sentence. When Green was released in '69, he needed income to get back on his feet. So he re-joined Blue Note and began recording the more lucrative form of jazz-funk that the label had pioneered in the mid-1960s when the boogaloo took hold. Green, a soulful master of the single-note jazz guitar, transitioned beautifully, and many of his albums and singles released between 1969 and '73 did well on the R&B charts. These albums include Carryin' On, Green is Beautiful, Alive!, Visions, Shades of Green, The Final Comedown and Live at the Lighthouse, followed by additional albums on other labels after he left Blue Note for a second time.
During that pivotal year between 1969 and '70, Green toured in Europe. While there, he recorded in Paris in October 1969 and was taped live at the Antibes Jazz Festival on the Côte d'Azur in July 1970. Both recordings appear now on the new two-CD release, Grant Green: Funk in France (Resonance). We have these recordings thanks to the close relationship developed by Resonance Records and producer Zev Feldman with France's Institut National de l'Audiovisuel (INA).
The Paris studio material in '69 was recorded at the Office de Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française (ORTF). The session featured Green (g), Larry Ridley (b) and Don Lamond (d), with Barney Kessel (g) added on I Wish You Love. It's largely a jazz set with one jazz-funk tune added: James Brown's I Don't Want Nobody to Give Me Nothing (Open the Door I'll Get It Myself). The rest of the songs were Sonny Rollins's Oleo, Antonio Carlos Jobim's How Insensitive, Untitled Blues, Sonny's Sonnymoon for Two and Charles Trenet's I Wish You Love.
The live Antibes Jazz Festival material featured Green (g), Claude Bartee (ts), Clarence Palmer (org) and Billy Wilson (d). The game-changer for Green between the two recordings was Upshot, a huge jazz-funk hit off his Carryin' On album that had been released just months earlier. That album launched the jazz-funk phase of Green's career, which would last until his death in 1979.
The other tracks from the Antibes' sets were Little Anthony and the Imperials' 1965 hit Hurt So Bad, Tommy Tucker's Hi-Heel Sneakers and a second 20-minute performance of Upshot.
Listening to this Resonance release, the jazz-funk tracks sound so much freer and alive for Green, who clearly was tiring of the kind of straight-up that dominates the Paris studio recordings. Listening to him peck away on the Antibes material, particularly Hi-Heel Sneakers and the longer version of Upshot. They are a revelation. Jazz-funk allowed Green to express himself more soulfully and connect with his St. Louis roots. What's most remarkable about Green is that he had three enormous careers in all—a prolific jazz sideman, a vastly under-released jazz leader and a pioneering jazz-funk avatar.
Hopefully, live recordings from the early '70s of Green in his jazz-funk prime will surface. For now, these are a remarkable find, since they allow us to hear the bridge Green crossed from threadbare jazz to the much more dynamic and emotional jazz-funk.
JazzWax clip: Here's a mini documentary from Resonance on Grant Green's embrace and expansion of jazz-funk...
And thanks to Murari Venkataraman for reminding me about this three-part documentary on Grant Green as his son, Grant Green Jr., goes in search of his father...
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