LP REVIEW: Grant Green – Funk in France, From Paris to Antibes (1969-1970)

Grant Green – Funk in France, From Paris to Antibes (1969-1970)
(Resonance Records INA HLP-9033. LP review by Andrew Cartmel)

Now recognised as one of the presiding prodigies of guitar jazz, Grant Green died in 1979 having narrowly missed out on the sort of bigtime success enjoyed by the likes of Wes Montgomery and, especially, George Benson — ironically Green was scheduled to play a gig at George Benson’s club in Harlem when he was finally felled by a heart attack. He was 43 years old, and his reputation was soon in eclipse. Indeed Sharony Andrews Green’s biography is subtitled Rediscovering the Forgotten Genius of Jazz Guitar.

Well, the rediscovery of Grant Green is fully under way, thanks to his music being embraced and redeployed first by Acid Jazz performers, then hip hop artists, not to mention devotees of funk. More importantly, there is a growing recognition of the true stature of his recordings such as the 1963 classic Idle Moments on Blue Note. And now Resonance Records has continued its campaign of unearthing classic lost performances with a flood of Grant Green collector’s items.

Released on vinyl as a Record Store Day special, Funk in France comes in a staggeringly lavish double gatefold cover which opens up to reveal two albums, consisting of three discs all told — The Round House comprises a single disc and you could call it both a live album and a studio album — it was recorded live, but in ideal acoustic conditions in a studio at La Maison de la Radio, the headquarters of the ORTF (the French Office of Radio and Television) in Paris on 26 October 1969. Then there is Haute Funk, a double album, also live, preserving an Antibes Jazz Festival performance on 18 July 1970.

The Paris set opens with a title that almost consumes the word count for this review: I Don’t Want Nobody to Give Me Nothing (Open Up the Door I’ll Get it Myself). The fact that this is a James Brown track clearly announces Grant Green’s intention to move funk-wards. It’s dark, edgy and searching with Green playing percussively. Larry Ridley’s bass writhes and wraps around the guitar lines like ivy on a tree branch. Sonny Rollins’ tune Oleo is delivered in a hip, open, breezy rendition with Green creating colours and highlights as if he’s shearing glistening fragments off a block of ice.

But the set really begins to cook with Tom Jobim’s Insensatez, introduced by the excited stopwatch ticking of Don Lamond’s drums and underpinned by, then interwoven with, Ridley’s bass. Green’s exploration of the song is plangent and (appropriately enough) resonant. The relaxed and funky Untitled Blues is followed by another high point, Charles Trenet’s I Wish You Love, for which Barney Kessel joins the trio. The duelling guitars are an occasion for sharply clipped playing that paradoxically gives rise to a fat warm sound, with a killer sense of laidback timing, playing elastically behind the beat in a way that makes the listener feel the cares of the day simply drop away. The guitarists explore the tune almost pianistically, giving it unexpected stature and profundity.

Haute Funk is very different, It consists of four long tracks, each allocated the entire side of an LP. On Upshot (the first of two versions here) Green takes a headlong plunge into Montgomery-style soul jazz. One might expect Clarence Palmer’s organ to similarly hue close to Jimmy Smith, but on the contrary his sound is much more brooding, menacing and modernistic.

However, it’s difficult to draw too many conclusions about the supporting musicians. The crystal clarity of the Paris radio studio recording is gone here and the rest of the band often seems to be recessed behind the dominant sound of Green’s guitar. Nevertheless, the different line up, with Claude Bartee on tenor sax and Billy Wilson on drums, and the urgent driving energy of the festival performances are compelling. Hurt So Bad (a hit for Little Anthony and the Imperials) sees Claude Bartee’s tenor taking a welcome spell in the spotlight. (Bartee had previously played with Grant Green in New York and would go on to work for him for several years.) Grant Green seems to pick his way carefully and thoughtfully in a response to the sax which manages to both float and drive the tune forward

This is an almost shockingly sumptuous package, with a full size 12-page colour booklet in addition to the elaborate heavy duty sleeve. And the vinyl is top quality: 180gram pressings, mastered by Bernie Grundman. Nevertheless, it’s the original tapes which count and the Paris radio studio recordings beat the Antibes sets hands down. The Paris sessions also benefit from brevity — all of the Antibes tracks are extended workouts. On the other hand, the presence of Claude Bartee on tenor in Antibes adds a rousing additional dimension.

Producer Zev Feldman’s liner notes mention that he seriously considered not including the Paris sessions in this package at all (because they’d already escaped into the wild in the form of a video and subsequent bootleg audio recordings). Thank the jazz gods he relented. Those performances on their own are reason enough for this triple vinyl Green-fest.

Funk in France is a seriously luxuriant offering for any Grant Green aficionado or any lover of jazz guitar and it looks set to fly out the door on Record Store Day. And if annual orgies of vinyl aren’t your thing, you can pick up the deluxe double CD version.

Categories: miscellaneous

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