GRANT HIM A LISTEN
Author: Bruce Jenkins Date Posted:14 January 2022
Early in the twenty-first century it seemed that, finally, the jazz loving world was starting to pick up on guitarist Grant Green. Hallelujah!
His rhythmic playing being neither complicated nor particularly flashy, Green stayed off the radar of casual jazz fans for far too long. Yet he was all over bebop and worked with many of the biggest names of the Sixties. Herbie Hancock, Yusef Lateef, McCoy Tyner… and more brilliant organists than you could shake a plectrum at.
Grant Green was born in St Louis in 1935, and by the age of thirteen was playing guitar in a gospel group. That soulful training would surface in his jazz playing again and again, most notably on his 1962 album Feelin’ The Spirit (with guest Herbie Hancock). But young Grant was also steeped in the blues and loved exploring and improvising in a way that evokes the subdued intensity of great blues singers. You can hear this clearly on the opening cut of his superb 1964 album Idle Moments.
That opening piece,"Idle Moments", was written by pianist Duke Pearson whose languid piano opening lures us into a piece that builds to an epic fifteen minute daydream. A couple of minutes in, Green eases into his first solo. As befits the title, this is reflective, pensive jazz; laid back and dreamy. Unhurried. After the leader, Pearson takes a turn, keeping the same limpid blues feels. There are points where he even uses the piano’s sustain pedal to enhance the feel of a liquid cascade, unusual in jazz piano at the time. Joe Henderson steps forward and, while keeping the same feel, gives a whole new perspective on the melodic themes, his breathy tone and mid-register playing adding a satisfying tonal richness. The final solo is vibe master Bobby Hutcherson who, to my ears, brilliantly follows the improvisational cues of Henderson while referring back to the stylistic feel of Pearson’s piano. You could fall asleep, except that it is so quietly exciting listening to these top notch musicians fill the sound stage. At the end you want to wind back and hear it all again.
The rest of the LP is no less engaging. Side one is completed by a Grant Green original, "Jean De Fleur". This is a much more uptempo number driven with swing by drummer Al Harewood. Green’s solo really jumps and darts but is always melodic; Henderson is in bebop heaven and Hutcherson’s mallets literally dance over the bars.
The second side repeats the combination of one long and one shorter track, with a bluesy version of John Lewis’s "Django" (a piece first appearing on a Modern Jazz Quartet LP in 1955) followed by another Pearson original, "Nomad".
Despite checking out way too young—he died in 1979 at the age of forty-three—Grant Green’s catalogue is impressive. Idle Moments is his twenty-first album; he managed twenty-four under his own name by the end of the Sixties, after which his albums went in a more funky direction. This hugely influenced the Eighties Acid Jazz scene, rekindling interest in the guitarist’s career… but that is another story.
Today our tale ends with the words of Duke Pearson who, in addition to being a sought after session pianist, held an A&R position at Blue Note. Green, he wrote in his liner notes, "cannot be easily typed". Pearson goes on:
"From the moody "Idle Moments", to the swiftly moving "Jean de Fleur", graduating to the blue-tinged "Django", and finally to the roving "Nomad", Grant Green is always at home".
You might enjoy welcoming him into your home too, to share some idle moments.
© Bruce Jenkins