Reviewed by Harvey Pekar, Fri., Dec. 6, 2002
Grant Green1961-66 Retrospective (Blue Note) Grant Green didn't live long (1931-79), yet he still established himself among the most gifted and versatile jazz guitarists. He played with a bevy of blues-oriented bands, often including organists, but never gave in to the temptation of using funky clichés. In fact, the keyboardists and hornists who played with Green had a tendency to improvise more creatively and intelligently than usual while working with him. This 4-CD set contains two discs featuring organists Baby Face Willette, Jimmy Smith, Jack McDuff, Larry Young, and John Patton. Disc three finds Green playing with outstanding pianists like Herbie Hancock, McCoy Tyner, and Sonny Clark or with just bass and drums. The fourth CD features prominent saxophonists Booker Ervin, Joe Henderson, Ike Quebec, Wayne Shorter, and James Spaulding. Green wasn't so much an innovator, but he did synthesize several approaches to create a style of his own. His relaxed fretwork recalls the legacy of Charlie Christian, and his boppish lines are reminiscent of Charlie Parker's. His improvising always had a naturally bluesy quality that enhanced the funkier tracks on this set. If nothing else, Green was a meticulous artist. He intelligently paces his solos on "So What," building their intensity carefully rather than trying to blow the listener away with a few flashy phrases. My favorite disc here is probably the fourth one, because the excellent personnel and varied compositions drive Green to the top of his game, unleashing solos that are imaginative and lucidly constructed. The saxophonists all have distinctive styles, swinging with ease and grace. Trumpeters Lee Morgan and Johnny Coles also make distinguished appearances. Overall, this is a fine representation of mainstream Sixties post-bop, legendary artists playing at or near the top of their game and inspiring each other to greater heights in the process.