Selection: Ain’t I funky now (James Brown)
Blue Mitchell (trumpet) Claude Bartee (tenor saxophone) Emmanuel Riggins or Neal Creque (organ) Grant Green (guitar) Jimmy Lewis (electric bass) Idris Muhammad (drums) Candido (congas) Richie “Pablo” Landrum (bongos) recorded Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, January 30, 1970
I had not played much of the small jazz funk side of my collection for some time, plumbing instead the more advanced areas of the genre, more “difficult” listening. However while researching recently the largely undocumented United Artists Blue Note years – to correct some of my earlier misconceptions of what when and who – I found myself eyeball to eyeball with Seventies jazz funk, the groove that Blue Note label and bop survivors of the previous decade moved on to, to put bread on the table: Donald Byrd, Bobby Hutcherson, Grant Green, plus a raft of new players. It led me to pull some old friends off the shelf, take time to re-evaluate. I count fourteen Grant Green titles and Green is Beautiful is the most “modern”, only forty four years old.
There is something in Grant Green’s playing style tells us who he is, what sort of person he is. Linear melodic lead lines, clean, exuding calmness, benevolent, rhythmic, he loves to play, he just wants to play. Its a good groove, and not too smooth, not tipping over into the octave-pairing stylist George Benson or the master of easy-listening guitar, Earl Klugh; eschewing the theatrics of rock guitar which had come to dominated the airwaves, Grant is his own man. The electric bass, multiple percussion and gritty organ keep it lowdown and groovy. Idris Muhammad doesn’t artfully seduce the drum kit, he beats the crap out of it: submit to the beat. The turntable briefly spins to the sound of the funky-chicken, a temporary respite from the tortured souls of the New York avant-garde. I think it liked it.
Does this mean you will be joining the followers of the funky chicken LJC?
Somehow I don’t think I will be venturing out on the dance floor any time soon. It is a while since I practiced my moves, which have gone past the merely embarrassing, to the point of being orthopaedically hazardous, and a health and safety risk to others on the dance floor. Nodding to the groove should suffice. Got to love James Brown: Get on up, get on down, like a fax machine…
What I do like about this variety of1970 jazz funk is that it is an ensemble creation of real musicians. The accents vary from one cycle to another within the groove, because its emanating from real people jamming together, it’s organic, not a lap-top confection of symmetrically repeating samples.
There is something enormously positive about Grant Green, and it is captured in that strangely incomplete cover portrait, mixing detailed art nouveau line-drawing of nature with stylized monochrome photography, and a “missing” blank area, playing with figure and ground. It’s a good cover of its day credited to one Bob Venosa, on the cusp between the Sixties and Seventies, leaving behind Francis Wolff chiaroscuro portraiture and bold Reid Miles design, but not yet hippy-kitsch, bellbottom-flares and big hair, see you at the car-wash. That was all still to come.1970. Send for Shaft.
Vinyl: BST 84342
Liberty UA Black/Lt Blue label VAN GELDER 143 gm vinyl. “Original” I believe
Got to love these 1971-2 Liberty UA pressings. Twelve in my collection, of which two are poor and ten excellent. Of the poor, one is an ill-advised “rechanneled for stereo”, which when played, is effectively mono with around 15% of the upper register missing. Ugh. Luckily Liberty UA managed to source Van Gelder Stereo masters for all of the true stereos, some including his early ideas about instrument placement.
Source: West London Soul record store, catering for the ageing dance-floor fans and people who go to Northern Soul “Weekenders”. No “shoe gazing” here, most of the guys I see shopping there haven’t seen their feet for years. Proprietor Laurence is also a jazz aficionado, though it’s icing on the cake from a business point of view. Haven’t been over for some while, may be time for a trip West.