Grant Green – Slick! Live at Oil Can Harry’s
(Resonance Records INA HLP-9034. LP review by Andrew Cartmel)
Guitarist Grant Green (1935-1979) fell from favour with the jazz critics when he began playing funk in the late 1960s. But, perversely, it was exactly this departure which triggered the resuscitation of his reputation when, starting in the 1980s, rap artists began to ransack the funk catalogue for their samples. Grant Green’s biographer, Sharony Andrews Green, points out that (along with James Brown and George Clinton) “it was the laid back funky jazz tracks that he and others like Lou Donaldson and Horace Silver recorded that hooked rappers and deejays in what became known as the ‘acid jazz’ movement.” She goes on to chart the sardonic twists of fate that led to British hip-hoppers Us3 sampling a bootleg of Grant Green’s Blue Note track, Sookie Sookie, and thereby landing their own contract with Blue Note Records. (And selling millions more records than Green ever did.)
It is largely the more funky side of Grant Green’s career which is being celebrated by Resonance Records in a wave of limited-edition vinyl releases (five LPs all told) targeted at Record Store Day this year (21 April). The three-disc set Funk in France is discussed HERE. Slick is only marginally less lavish, a double album recorded in Vancouver on 5 September 1975.
It opens with a cheekily swinging version of Charlie Parker’s Now’s the Time that provides Grant Green with plenty of opportunities to flaunt his bebop chops. He plays fluidly and adroitly, digging down into the tune and maintaining a bouncing tempo with the help of a tight rhythm section — Emmanuel Riggins on electric piano, Ronnie Ware bass, Greg Williams drums, Gerald Izzard percussion. Riggins in particular shines here, playing simple but effective lines that enhance the already considerable momentum of the piece. Running at just over 8 minutes, Now’s the Time makes for a short Side 1.
Side 2, by contrast, is over 26 minutes and again consists of a single track, Insensatez. This Antonio Carlos Jobim tune, which received a memorable treatment on the other Resonance album, is explored here in loving detail with Green slowly and devotedly laying out the theme. Emmanuel Riggins inventively adapts his approach on electric piano to support Green with muscular comping, then plays a delicately flickering solo. Gerald Izzard work on percussion is also particularly notable here, including use of a whistle which evokes first birds calling in the canopy of a Brazilian forest and then revellers at carnival time.
The remainder of Slick consists of two medleys, each receiving one side of an LP, Vulcan Princess/Skin Tight/Woman’s Gotta Have it and Boogie On Reggae Woman/For the Love of Money. The first medley features Riggins on a science fiction sound-effect intro before driving forward into Blaxploitation soundtrack territory. Vulcan Princess is a Stanley Clarke tune and serves as a vehicle for Ronnie Ware’s electric bass. The second medley is especially catchy, compelling and energetic with a smart intro by Ware and a blur of high speed playing from Grant Green who seems to be carving out a new guitar genre here. The entire set is very much in the electric fusion mode popularised by Creed Taylor’s CTI label. Surprisingly, Green only ever cut one record for CTI as a leader, on their sub-label Kudu. It was entitled The Main Attraction and it was virtually the last he was to record.
Grant Green’s early death certainly deprived the jazz scene of one of its great guitar figures but Resonance Records is working hard to fill in the gaps in his recording history. Like Funk in France, the vinyl here is of audiophile standard, on noise free, precision 180gram pressings mastered by Bernie Grundman and manufactured at Record Technology Incorporated (RTI). And Resonance have once again pulled out all the stops in terms of presentation. Slick comes in a particularly handsome gatefold cover with great use of photography and design and typography which continues the Blaxploitation theme (kudos to designer Burton Yount). A 12-page booklet is also included, featuring extensive notes including a memoir by DJ Gary Barclay who worked for the radio station, CHQM, which originally recorded the concert. It’s thanks to Gary Barclay that the tapes survived to create this extravagant tribute to the godfather of jazz funk. If you don’t fancy queuing on Record Store Day to obtain up a collector’s item on vinyl, you can always pick up the CD release which will follow next month.