Recording date: June 12, 1964 at the Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs
Release date: 1979
RVG Remaster: March 9th 2004
Availabilty: CD, MP3 download, iTunes
Grant Green (guitar)
James Spaulding (alto saxophone)
Joe Henderson (tenor saxophone)
McCoy Tyner (piano)
Bob Cranshaw (bass)
Elvin Jones (drums)
Minor League, Ezz-Thetic, Grant's Tune, Solid, The Kicker (Wives and Lovers included on remastered editions)
Grant Green divides opinion. While many see him as a lesser player to the likes of Kenny Burrell or Wes Montgomery, there are those, like Michael Cuscuna (writing on the liner notes of "Solid") who see him as a thread linking Charlie Christian (the virtual inventor of hollow body jazz guitar) with great jazz guitarists of today such as Peter Bernstein and John Scofield. Grant Green was "a major link to... Charlie Christian..... he absorbed Christian, then bypassed such heroes of the day as Tal Farlow, Kenny Burrell and Wes Montgomery, and moved directly to the formation of his own identity."
However, a further, less expected influence was Charlie Parker. Grant Green: "I used to sit up all night copying Parker solos note by note". This, and the influence of Charlie Christian, goes a long way to underpinning Grant Green's style. Whereas Wes Montgomery's technical accomplishments allowed him to play tunes on single notes and even the whole tune in octaves and more remarkably on chords (listen for example to his remarkable take on John Coltrane's "Impressions"), Grant Green almost exclusively played single notes, in the style of Charlie Christian with a strong sense that he was also transferring the directness of Charlie Parker's horn to guitar. When he played chords as an accompaniment, they were sparse and used minimalistically.
In researching her book on Grant Green, "Grant Green: Rediscovering the Forgotten Genius of Jazz Guitar" , Sharony Andrews Green interviewed Nat Hentoff and asked him what was unique about the guitarist:
"I much preferred listening to him than to Wes Montgomery because one of the virtues of Grant's playing was that he was very melodic. He always told a story, whereas a number of musicians – and I think Wes Montgomery is among them – they are so technically skilled that much of their playing is to show you how skilled they are, and they do it by very sophisticated harmony or rhythms, and the clear melody is often not apparent, is not immediate, whereas with Grant Green's … he was like talking to you and to me . That's always the best indication of a musician's quality, that it's conversational".
Michael Cuscana agrees: "Grant executed bright, clean lines that never fully abandoned the melody, emphasized concise, linear , single note improvisations and possessed a unique rhythmic momentum that remains unmatched."
This captures the essence of what is so special about Grant Green's playing and why as each decade has passed since his death in 1979 there has been a growing realization that his modest, paired down, melodic, story telling, blues filled style is one of the key voices of jazz guitar.
He was also seminal in establishing the dynamics of the Hammond organ/guitar /drums jazz trio (as exemplified today by Larry Goldings/Peter Bernstein/Bill Stewart or Medeski/Martin/Wood) by working with John Patton, Jack McDuff and then Baby Face Willette before joining Larry Young and Elvin Jones in a seminal collaboration that began working through the modal possibilities announced by Miles Davis and John Coltrane. Their albums "Into Somethin'" and "Street of Dreams" are classics of the genre.
The details of his life are in so many ways typical of the highs and lows of the jazz life. He was born in St. Louis in 1931. His father played and performed R&B on electric guitar and as a youngster Grant Green was bought an instrument so that he could learn and sit in. At a young age he was gigging in the St Louis area, playing gospel and blues, playing rock 'n' roll. He performed with Jimmy Forrest, Harry Edison and Lou Donaldson during the 1950s and by the time he moved to New York in 1960, he was already the finished article, taking the jazz community in the city by storm. Introduced by Lou Donaldson, he soon became the unofficial Blue Note house guitarist, appearing on over 80 albums for the label, over 20 as leader. And then the darker side, the addiction to heroin, the fall from fame as soul and then progressive rock emerged as the sixties unfolded, the struggle to keep a music career afloat when mainstream jazz was out of fashion in the seventies with misjudged commercialism (while many great albums such as "Solid" remained unissued in the Blue Note 'vaults') and an untimely death in 1979 aged just 48. For Grant Green read Hank Mobley, read many of the greats of the hard bop era.
It is inexplicable that "Solid", recorded in 1964, remained unreleased for 15 years until Grant Green's death in 1979 since it captures Grant Green at the peak of his art. The jazz is exemplary and challenging, perhaps too challenging for a label that has done so much for jazz yet was becoming increasingly dependent on making ends meet at the time.
Not only is Grant Green at the creative pinnacle of his career, but the combination of musicians assembled for "Solid" is in a rare groove of collective brilliance. In December 1963 Grant Green, Joe Henderson and Bob Cranshaw (together with Al Harewood on drums and Duke Pearson on piano) had performed on Bobby Hutcherson's "The Kicker" , an album that we have already identified as one the 100 greatest jazz albums. In the same month, these same musicians came together on Grant Green's great album "Idle Moments". Joe Henderson and Bob Cranshaw were key musicians on Lee Morgan's "The Sidewinder" also recorded in December 1963, another of our 100 greatest jazz albums. For "Solid", Al Harewood and Duke Pearson are replaced by McCoy Tyner and Elvin Jones, two thirds of the John Coltrane rhythm section that were recording "Crescent" at this time and, six months later, "A Love Supreme".
Apart from the common personnel, there are clear similarities between "The Kicker" and "Solid". Though not acknowledged on "Solid", it is likely that both feature the hand of house arranger Duke Pearson in providing charts for a clearly conceived ensemble sound. Both albums feature adventurous, cutting edge jazz. Both feature inspired soloing from young musicians arriving at a peak of creativity. Both remained unreleased by Blue Note for over 15 years at a time when the careers of those musicians could have benefited from the attention that the release of these albums would have merited.
The album opens with Duke Pearson's "Minor League," an upbeat composition that buzzes and swings from the start and provides a vehicle for great soloing from the horns and piano but most of all for Grant Green to produce some of his most chracteristic soloing.
Grant Green's playing on George Russell's "Ezz-Thetic" would surprise many who claimed that he was technically weaker than Wes Montgomery of Kenny Burrell; this experimental modal piece is handled brilliantly and at length. Elvin Jones' drumming is especially notable.
Grant Green's own "Grant's Tune" and Sonny Rollins' "Solid" are more outrightly blues based and laid back with a good time feel and great playing all round.
Joe Henderson's "The Kicker," closes the album. The composition appears on both "Solid" and on Bobby Hutcherson's "The Kicker", inevitably inviting comparison. The pace is reduced slightly on "Solid", allowing more scope for soloing and of course, instead of featured solos for Bobby Hutcherson, there is more emphasis on Grant Green's guitar both in the ensemble and solo passages. Once again it is worth noting the benefit on "Solid" of Elvin Jones' much less linear approach on drums. Joe Henderson must have despaired of ever seeing "The Kicker" released (with both the Bobby Hutcherson and Grant Green led versions 'in the vaults') but he finally succeeded when, on joining Horace Silver's band, the composition appeared on "Song For My Father" in December 1964.
The Bacharach-David tune "Wives and Lovers" has been included on the CD reissue of "Solid". It does not belong there, the same version being also included on Grant Green's "Matador" album (where it does clearly belong).
Now that we can appreciate "Solid" for what it is, it is clear that this is a major work in the career of one of the formative influences in the evolution of guitar based jazz.
Star Rating *****
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