Grant Green ‘Funk in France: From Paris to Antibes 1969-1970’ 3LP/2CD (Resonance) 5/5

Sometimes classic unissued sessions are lurking in the background just waiting to be heard by a wider public and this is most definitely a case in point. Grant Green is nowadays regarded as something of a modern jazz guitar legend largely by virtue of his decade long work at Blue Note (as leader and master sideman, a de facto in-house musician of the label in fact) and this marvellous selection has the considerable merit of covering both sides of his career, the straight ahead early part, and the latter funk-tinged work. What is all the more remarkable is that the earlier recordings here were never originally meant to happen since French National Radio envisaged a ‘dream team’ line-up of jazz guitarists comprising Kenny Burrell, Barney Kessel and Tal Farlow to perform live together in their auditorium. As it turned out, Tal Farlow was forced to withdraw and was instead replaced by Green. This last-minute change resulted in Grant Green being paired with Larry Ridley on bass and Dan Lanod on drums, plus for one track only a duet with Kessel. Some of his favourite jazz sides from the early to mid-1960’s are revisited including a bop-inflected tribute to Sonny Rollins on both ‘Oleo’ and ‘SonnyMoon For Two’, and it is important to stress that Green was far more influenced by saxophonists, Charlie Parker in particular.

There is, then, a languid nod to the French chanson and his immediate audience with a reprise of Charles Trenet’s, ‘I Wish You Love’ (Gloria Lynne had recorded a hit English language version in 1964), while an untitled blues reflects Green’s love of that genre, and the melodic reading of a Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes opus, How insensitive (‘Insensataez’). For the rest of the following four sides of vinyl, the mood and tone changes and we shift into the funk and soul groove of the beginning of the 1970’s. Green always prided himself on keeping up with the latest songs and would enjoy covering these, extending and embellishing them with his distinctive chords. Lengthy cuts of popular soul and funk classics of the time grace the following four sides, with the uplifting ‘Hi-Heel Sneakers’, and the soulful ‘Hurt So Bad’, being the pick of the bunch. However, these recordings make for an interesting parallel with two official Blue Note live recordings made, the ‘Up at Mintons’ double album from 1961 and ‘Live At The Lighthouse’ a decade or so later. In his notes, Michael Cuscuna refers to how Grant Green had to be prompted by Cannonball Adderley no less to make it to New York in 1959 to be first heard by the wider jazz public, yet by this stage he was already thirty-four years of age and, similar to Wes Montgomery, they were both late developers rather than childhood prodigies. Between 1967 and 1968 Green relocated to Detroit, largely to attempt to tackle his heroin addiction. He emerged from this in 1969 with a new vigour and in significantly better health.

It is incredible to think that all this was organised by André Francis (an equivalent in knowledge and status in France to Humphrey Lyttelton) on a shoe string budget and that Green himself was relatively little known in France. Jazz organisers in France historically have made a habit of making accessible the great jazz artists to as wide an audience as possible, and this writer, in 1990, managed to witness on the same evening an incomparable trio of jazz greats: the Pat Metheny trio featuring Roy Haynes and Dave Holland; the McCoy Tyner Big band; John Scofield band. All for the sum of FF120 (around £12). This makes for a well-educated younger jazz public who are not priced out of the music and a more diverse demographic distribution of the audience. The top quality 180g vinyl is matched only by the impeccable red, white and blue outer cover (plus cockerel) that leaves little doubt as to the concert location, while the lavish gatefold sleeve unfolds to reveal creatively invented covers with a giant photo of Paris and the Seine where French National Radio headquarters are situated. The quality of the issue is worthy of a Japanese edition and Grant Green famously had unissued Blue Note material that came out on lovingly first time issued LP’s complete with graphics by Japanese artists, and these have subsequently become collectors items. Terrific inner sleeve booklet that a box set would be proud of includes in-depth coverage by Blue Note and Grant Green archivist Michael Cuscuna, while all matters French are more than adequately explained by Pascal Rozet. For historical note, the recordings here emanate from the INA, or French Audio-Visual Institute and other smaller musical items can be viewed online, and the list is both exhaustive and impressive. Interestingly, while the more venerable of the two French jazz magazines, Jazz Hot, gave the concert a favourable review, Jazz Magazine did not.

Tim Stenhouse