What I’d give to be able to walk into a small club somewhere and discover Grant Green playing with a little band – just his guitar plus a tenor saxophone, B3 organ, bass guitar, drums and congas. Green was a great jazz player, as we know from the many Blue Note recordings of the mid-’60s on which he kept pace with such advanced musicians as Bobby Hutcherson, Larry Young and Elvin Jones, but in less formal circumstances he could turn to a repertoire of funk and soul tunes on which to boil up an irresistible groove. Both sides of his character are to be found on two new multi-LP sets of previously unknown material unearthed, restored, remastered and released by the Resonance label on lavishly packaged 180-gram vinyl in time for this weekend’s Record Store Day.
The first album, titled Funk in France, consists of three vinyl LPs drawn from two sources. The first disc comes from a guitar festival held in 1969 at ORTF’s Maison de la Radio in Paris, where Green, a late replacement for the ailing Tal Farlow, played a set with the excellent bassist Larry Ridley and the veteran big-band drummer Don Lamond. Basically, it’s a jam – but a very good one, particularly on two Sonny Rollins tunes, “Oleo” and “Sonnymoon for Two”, which allow the guitarist to demonstrate his bebop chops. He’s also joined by another of the festival’s featured artists, Barney Kessel, for a delightful investigation of Charles Trenet’s “I Wish You Love”.
The other two discs come from two nights at the following summer’s Antibes Jazz Festival, where Green arrived with his own band: the tenorist Claude Bartee, the organist Clarence Palmer and the drummer Billy Wilson. This is an open-air version of his club music, featuring R&B hits like Little Anthony’s “Hurt So Bad” and Tommy Tucker’s “Hi-Heel Sneakers”, and two long versions of his own “Upshot”. It’s raw, driving, crowd-pleasing stuff, with bags of atmosphere.
On the whole, though, I prefer the second release, which is titled Slick! and was recorded on a single night in 1975 at a Vancouver club called Oil Can Harry’s, reminding us that Green was also recorded at places like Detroit’s Club Mozambique and the deliciously named Cliché Lounge in Newark, New Jersey. Here he’s accompanied by his frequent collaborator Emmanuel Riggins on electric piano, Ronnie Ware on bass guitar, Greg Williams on drums and Gerald Izzard on percussion.
It’s a double album, and although it opens with a sprightly version of Charlie Parker’s “Now’s the Time”, the funk seeps in on the second track, a 26-minute version of Tom Jobim’s “How Insensitive”, which opens with a lovely passage of unaccompanied guitar before a groove is established and eventually assumes control. After that it’s funk all the way, through medleys featuring instrumental jams on the Ohio Players’ “Skin Tight”, Bobby Womack’s “Woman’s Gotta Have It”, Stevie Wonder’s “Boogie on, Reggae Woman” and the O’Jays’ “For the Love Of Money”.
Like the material from the Antibes sets, this is not cerebral music. But it warms the heart and moves the feet, just as it did for a generation of regulars in clubs in the black districts of cities across North America. Green died in 1979, aged 43, suffering a heart attack during an engagement at his friend George Benson’s Breezin’ Lounge in Harlem, after a year of ill health. His playing is loved for its blues-driven clarity and directness, whatever the context. And, as usual, Resonance — a non-profit organisation — goes to the trouble of providing plenty of background material in the accompanying booklets, along with artwork that evokes the vibe of the period. These two albums are time capsules, offering something to be enjoyed as well as preserved.