Sunday, July 16, 2017

Grant Green - 1963 [2001] "Am I Blue"

Am I Blue is an album by American jazz guitarist Grant Green featuring performances recorded in 1963 and released on the Blue Note label.

This great guitarist recorded in a variety of settings and concepts during his years at Blue Note. Am I Blue featured the perennial trio of Green, organist John Patton and drummer Ben Dixon with the trumpet of Johnny Coles and the tenor saxophone of newcomer Joe Henderson.

What makes this album so unusual in Green's canon is that the entire album is in a soulful, atmospheric ballad groove. The material ranges from the blues ballad "Sweet Slumber" to the country song "Take These Chains From My Heart", but the after hours mood that these men create is never broken. This is the first appearance of this album on CD.

AM I BLUE features the classic Green/Patton/Dixon ensemble plus Johnny Cole and Joe Henderson on horns in a delightful yet unusually laid back vain. The gospel influence in John's playing is particularly evident on this recording, as is his minimalist philosophy. (If you don't have to play it, don't) Ironically, in his latter years, due to a strange accident with a car jack which would injure a tendon in his hand he would not have use of his pinky and fourth finger, yet could still create some of the richest and most amazing connections on the organ as well as develop very rich and lucid solo ideas ! The showstopper on the CD is the light and bouncy FOR ALL WE KNOW... Of course, Johnny Coles and a then newcomer and relatively unknown Joe Henderson definitely get their word in, but it is amazing to hear John's passing chords behind them. Grant Green typically lays out, listening, listening, listening, listening (which is what a soloist needs to be doing when his other bandmates are playing... not playing over them, or holding coversations, but listening and taking in the dialogue). Finally, Grant comes in and is as crisp, melodious and swinging and used expect him to be... throwing in a few surprise left hooks as well! - - Last word goes to John... who in turn not only takes a well crafted single note solo, but digs down with a real nifty shout chorus as well (though admittedly I will ever have to admit that Johnny Hammond Smith and Wild Bill will ever have him beat on that.) With Ben Dixon in his corner, however, he does take it home quite masterfully ! of note: That's the one thing that distinguishes a Grant Green session from one of those sessions where people are trying to copy such a session - - you can really tell the players are listening to each other, providing a lot of space and responding to one another's ideas! True Jazz masters are at their best not when they're showing off what they know... but when they're really listening and responding to what's going on around them. Then magic occurs, as was the historical case of John Coltrane's layer of sound discovery.

If you like Grant Green, you know what to expect from this album: a GREAT recording. Sure, it's not THAT unique from others around the time but it is by no means a bad album. There aren't any bonus tracks or alternate takes (like many of the other RVG remasters) but the album is impossible to find on vinyl so that's forgiveable; practically the only complaint I have with it. Don't be fooled by snobbery.

Track listing:

"Am I Blue" (Harry Akst, Grant Clarke) - 6:56
"Take These Chains from My Heart" (Hy Heath, Fred Rose) - 6:12
"I Wanna Be Loved" (Johnny Green, Edward Heyman, Billy Rose) - 7:39
"Sweet Slumber" (Lucky Millinder, Al J. Neiburg, Henri Woode) - 7:17
"For All We Know" (J. Fred Coots, Sam M. Lewis) - 13:59


Grant Green - guitar
Johnny Coles - trumpet
Joe Henderson - tenor saxophone
"Big" John Patton - organ
Ben Dixon - drums