I read that Grant was a bedrock of '60s Blue Note sessions, and from 1961 to 1965 he made more appearances on Blue Note LPs, as leader or sideman, than anyone else. The Blue Note sound of this period was predominantly a mixture of jazz often with gospel, blues, r'n'b, and latin influences in the mix. A lot of this material doesn't really do it for me, including the majority of Grant's led albums, which tend to feel a little too safe: his default mode is to play in a melodic and smooth style, often accompanied by hammond, which comes over a little too easy listening for my tastes, particularly when you consider what people like John Coltrane and Sun Ra were doing at the time on Impulse! Records. In fact some people call Grant the father of acid jazz, for the way he brought a carefree mood to the soul jazz excursions he was best known for.
That said there seems to be a small seam of edgier, harder Blue Note sessions that he was involved with as a side man - all recorded within the space of a year, from November 1963 to November 1964 - that I really love, and hope you'll enjoy too. As on 'Search for the New Land' the lightness of his playing compliments and contrasts the tension in the material, and this little mix picks out my favourites of such pieces.
Although the politics aren't explicit here, as they would later become in the later 60s and 70s jazz eras, I think they are there between the lines. It is worth remembering that this is the height of the civil rights struggle in the States, with the landmark victory of the Civil Rights Act being passed on July 2, 1964, and Martin Luther King Jr being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on December 10, 1964. The Lee Morgan track 'Mr. Kenyatta' featured here refers to Jomo Kenyatta, who won independence for Kenya from the UK on December 12, 1963, and became the countries first president. There was definitely a heady atmosphere of social change in the air.
The selection starts relatively optimistic and buzzy, getting a little darker and edgier as it goes on, before going out on a reflective and mellower note with 'Lazy Afternoon', the one track taken from one of Grant's own LPs, 'Street of Dreams'. The innocent title of the track masks Grant's heroin use, whose bitter-sweet influence is particularly strong on this tune. Whatever the mood, throughout all the tracks featured, Grant's light, unique tone illuminates and uplifts.
"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that." Martin Luther King, Jr.
For those interested I've posted the personnel line-ups and other info on each track in the comments.
The Shining Light of Grant Green on Blue Note 1963-64
Larry Young - Plaza de Toros
Bobby Hutcherson - The Kicker
George Braith - Extension
Lee Morgan - Search For The New Land
George Braith - Outside Around The Corner
Lee Morgan - Mr. Kenyatta
Grant Green - Lazy Afternoon
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