For guitarist Grant Green (1931-79), the years between 1965 and 1969 were lost in a battle with drugs. His graceful, easily identifiable single note phrases had caught many listeners attention with a wide variety of excellent Blue Note dates between 1960 and 1965. Seemingly able to master any style, he never once diminished the force or appeal of his own personality. Leaving Blue Note, he recorded two albums for Verve in 1965 (one remains unreleased), then wasnt heard from again until 1969. But somewhere in 1967, he teamed with former Lou Donaldson rhythmmates John Patton (organ) and Ben Dixon (drums) and recorded, Iron City, his best ever organ-trio record.
Presumably recorded for then-thriving Prestige Records, Iron City was first issued in 1972 on Cobblestone Records and again in 1978 on Muse. Now that 32Jazz has introduced it on CD, a new generation of jazz listeners can hear how forceful the guitarist could be in the right funk. Freed from the constraints of well-rehearsed Blue Note staidness, Green and company let loose here in a rip-roaring, mostly up-tempo program of solid winners.
Greens own "Iron City" is one of his catchiest funk pieces and Patton and Dixon are down, deep in the groove. This trio even swings Luis Bonfas sticky-sweet, overplayed "Samba de Orfeu" so hard its titled "Samba de Orpheus." "Old Man Moses," (which Green first covered in 1962 on the excellent Feelin the Spirit), is the discs centerpiece. Stating the theme, the trio works itself into "A Love Supreme" groove and responds with praiseworthy playing that shows how well good heads can work the feet.
Patton is especially muscular and memorable here and, overall, pulls off one the best performances of his career (acid jazzers could find plenty of meaty samples here too). "High Heeled Sneakers" and "Work Song" are the standard soul-jazz warhorses. But each gets thorough, no-holds-barred workouts from Green and crew. The moody blue of "Motherless Child" (another return to Feelin the Spirit) is also sensitively and intuitively handled by the trio, but in a way that does not compromise toward sentimentality.
The discs sound is pristine and really brings out Pattons pedalwork and Dixons subtle technique more than the old records did. Iron City is, if not Greens best organ-trio record, surely his last "great" recorded performance. After returning to active recording in 1969, he resorted to mostly mindless vamps, rehashed pet licks and, too often, in the company of associates and material well beneath his talent. Iron City suggests that only the best was to still to come.
Tracks: Iron City; Samba de Orpheus; Old Man Moses (Let My People Go); High Heeled Sneakers; Motherless Child; Work Song.
Players: Grant Green: guitar; Big John Patton: organ; Ben Dixon: drums.
"LIVE" IN PHILLY
Tenor sax player Zoot Sims (1925-85) is more often heard about than heard. He came out of the big bands of Benny Goodman, Stan Kenton and, later, Gerry Mulligan. But he garnered real attention in the late forties as part of Woody Hermans "Four Brothers" band, which also included Stan Getz. When Sims pursued a career of his own, he was often heard in the company of fellow tenor player Al Cohn (their 32Jazz disc, Body and Soul, is definitive) or in quartets of his own. Sims warm tenor sound was perfect for the standards and ballads he tended toward. But his tone and style were so similar to Getz, that the latters fame probably helped contribute to Sims obscurity. Regardless, Sims recorded and performed frequently during the four decades that led up to his death.
"Live" in Philly is a record of one those performances, captured somewhere toward the end of Sims career. Its warm, comfortable date, played by a warm, cohesive group in a warm and welcoming club atmosphere. This never-before released 50-minute set catches the tenor (and, on "I Dont Stand," soprano) man at his prime, performing standards and three Ellington favorites with regular pianist Benny Aronov, bassist Major Holley and drummer Mickey Roker. Its clear these musicians know each other and the musical ground they cover inside and out. Bassist Holley (who died in 1990) is prominently featured throughout (especially on "Do Nothing" and "Polka Dots") and greatly enhances the proceedings with his own Slam Stewart-like personality. Zoot seems less in charge of things and more like a happy camper along for the ride. But his playing is never less than worthy (especially on Ellingtons "Mellotone") and does not betray a man at the end of his road.
This exceptionally well-recorded set (presumably recorded for Muse Records in the early eighties) isnt going to change the world or anybodys mind about anything. But its a great way to hear a great player playing what he loved, the way he liked to play it and where he loved to play it most.
Tracks: That Old Devil Called Love; Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me; Polka Dots and Moonbeams; I Dont Stand A Ghost of A Chance With You; In A Mellow Tone; Ive Got It Bad And That Aint Good; Theme.
Players: Zoot Sims: tenor and soprano saxophone; Major Holley: bass; Benny Aronov: piano; Mickey Roker: drums.
THE SOUND OF SUMMER
The poetry implied in the title of Marc Johnsons latest disc is very much a part of who he is and the way he creates music. Hes one of those bassists who makes his presence felt rather than known. Listen to how he coalesces with Bill Evans on Turn Out The Stars (Warner Bros.) or both volumes of the still-not-on-CD gem Paris Concerts. He follows deeply explored paths, without tripping for effect or falling all over the soloist to capture the spotlight. Even when he is exploring in center stage, he doesnt break mood for downbeat introspection or wild flings. Considering the diversity of music hes explored (with Woody Herman, Stan Getz, Pat Martino and Elaine Elias), Marc Johnson realizes a true jazz axiom: he strives and often achieves to capture experiences that are intended to be sensed, not described.
Thats why its difficult to attach words or comments to a beautiful disc like The Sound of Summer Running. Its like what you think about the wind. Either it reaches you emotionally and spiritually deep within or you just never think about it. Johnson adds two significant string stylists in Bill Frisell and Pat Metheny and rounds it out with a drummer who can handle (or join) any style well, Joey Baron. A more simpatico quartet of musical explorers is difficult to imagine. The thrill of hearing Frisell with Metheny is especially rewarding (even more so since Metheny avoids his dreaded guitar synth altogether here).
The Sound of Summer Running is a follow-up of sorts to Barons highest profile gig, Bass Desires. For that quartet, Johnson brought together emerging guitarists (and forces of nature), Bill Frisell and John Scofield, added drummer Peter Erskine and recorded two ECM albums, including its debut, Bass Desires -- which remains the best, most memorable release of the eighties. The same welcome "sound of surprise" from that 1985 group is all over the place on this 1998 release.
Johnson wrote or co-wrote seven of the ten tunes, all so seemingly warm and familiar as if to be standards. Even the improvisation is sufficiently song-like as to melt into the melody. The high level of improvisation is, in fact, the element of this musics success. Johnson, Frisell, Metheny and Baron all have the considerable ability to think and react outside of jazz. And the musical forms they explore never bog down by preconceived notions of jazz nor suffer the spruced-up hyperbole of native instrumentation. Consider it a sort of Music Americana. It takes in country pop ("Faith in You"), Western (Frisells evocative "Ghost Town"), slow hillbilly blues ("With My Boots On," one of Johnsons few features), folk (the finger-snapping "Union Pacific") and rockabilly ("Dingy-Dongy Day"). What sets The Sound of Summer Running apart, oddly, are those moments that will be most familiar to jazz listeners. There is Johnsons mellifluous, hit-worthy Metheny tribute, "Summer Running," (featuring notable Frisell fret work). Then check out how Metheny dances over Frisells Frisell-like "The Adventures of Max and Ben." Or dig how expertly Metheny crafts a Bill Evans-like synergy for the quartet on "For a Thousand Years," perhaps his grandest moment as a composer and a sumptuous showcase for Johnsons playing.
The Sound of Summer Running is the sound of creative music attaining a beauty and personality too rarely heard in contemporary jazz and another feather in the cap of this 45-year-old bassists musical history. During the last minute or so of the discs final track, there are some brief musical sketches (including "House of the Rising Sun") included that suggest this quartet has so much more to say. Heres hoping they have the opportunity.
Mention should be also made of this discs producer, Lee Townsend, who has been at the helm of all of 1998s best, most creative jazz: from Joey Baron, Bill Frisell and Marc Johnson to John Scofields excellent collaboration with Medeski, Martin and Wood, A Go Go (also on Verve).
Tracks: Faith in You; Ghost Town; Summer Running; With my Boots On; Union Pacific; Porch Swing; Dingy-Dongy Day; The Adventures of Max and Ben; In A Quiet Place; For A Thousand Years.
Players: Marc Johnson:bass; Bill Frisell: electric and acoustic guitars; Pat Metheny: electric and acoustic guitars, 43-string Pikasso guitar; Joey Baron: drums, tambourine.
BEHIND THE 8 BALL
Organist Babyface Willette (b. 1933) had a very brief career during the early sixties. His only real gig was grinding the B-3 in the Lou Donaldson band that featured guitarist Grant Green. He was also heard on Greens Blue Note debut, and on two pretty good juke-joint Blue Note dates of his own (also featuring Green). In 1964, Willette recorded two even better dates for Argo. Behind the 8 Ball is the last and best of these and also the last time Willette was ever heard on record. Recently issued in Japan as part of MCAs 20-bit "Soul Jazz Collection" (a celebration of ten mid-sixties Argo Jazz originals with short programs and cool cover art in tact), Behind the 8 Ball smokes some of the hottest, grooviest organ jazz imaginable and catches Willette at his very best. This stuff hits heavier than any of the well-rehearsed music Willette recorded for Blue Note. Take the title track, a Willette original, for example. Its like a drag race over hot coals. Willettes "Song of the Universe," too, evokes the big bang that churns through the lava as if evolution is just a dance. "Tacos Joe" takes surf and rides the wave as if its a matter of soul. Guitarist Ben White is a considerable factor for the musics success. Hes a good foil and consistently takes a number of cool, finger-snapping soul-os. But the popcorn makers on when Willette lights into one of his syncopated solos. Much of his style originates from gospel and sits well in the blues. But he never relies on the familiar Jimmy Smith-like organ grinding to make his points. He can be subtle, without losing his grip on the groove and can hit hard without leaning too much on the pipes. Its amazing Behind the 8 Ball is only about half an hour long. Its like a party you dont want to end. But you realize itd be hard to continuing partying that hard much longer. Behind the 8 Ball will be difficult (and expensive) to get a hold of, but its worth it if you can.
Tracks: Behind the 8 Ball; Song of the Universe; Amen; Tacos Joe; Roll Em Pete; Just A Closer Walk; St. James Infirmary; Sinnin Sam.
Players: Baby-Face Willette: organ; Ben White: guitar; Jerold Donavan: drums; Gene Barge: alto sax ("Amen" only).
I GOT A WOMAN AND SOME
This odd hodgepodge of funk jazz and R&B/pop was recorded by guitarist/vocalist George Benson for A&M/CTI Records around 1970. It first appeared on vinyl in 1984 long after anyone cared about Bensons music and has finally just made it onto CD. Theres no personnel listed, but its worth betting that Idris Muhammad is manning the drums (sounds like flautist Hubert Laws and organist Lonnie Smith make brief appearances too). Bensons guitar, of course, sounds terrific. And his vocals, for those that like his singing, really are quite engaging (especially on the pretty ballad, "Out of the Blue"). But this listener favors the funk: his groovilicious take on Ray Charles "I Got A Woman" (Benson scats and mumbles throughout this one) and the surprisingly Blue Note grooves of Bensons two originals, "Bluesadelic" and "Durhams Turn." The remainder of the material finds Benson fairly successfully aiming for the Jackie Wilson/Sam Cooke audience, with little, if anything, to offer jazz listeners. Some of the music is surely worth hearing. But with a running time of just under a half hour, its hardly worth the twelve bucks youll have to pay.
Tracks: I Got A Woman; Out of the Blue; Bluesadelic; Durhams Turn; Good Morning, Blues; I Worry Bout You; Without Her; She Went A Little Bit Farther; Goodbye, Columbus.