Saturday, June 22, 2019
Grant Green - 1965  "Matador"
Grant Green recorded so much high-quality music for Blue Note during the first half of the '60s that a number of excellent sessions went unissued at the time. Even so, it's still hard to figure out why 1964's Matador was only released in Japan in 1979, prior to its U.S. CD reissue in 1990 -- it's a classic and easily one of Green's finest albums. In contrast to the soul-jazz and jazz-funk for which Green is chiefly remembered, Matador is a cool-toned, straight-ahead modal workout that features some of Green's most advanced improvisation, even more so than his sessions with Larry Young. Part of the reason for that is that Green is really pushed by his stellar backing unit: pianist McCoy Tyner, bassist Bob Cranshaw, and drummer Elvin Jones. Not only is Green leading a group that features one-half of the classic Coltrane Quartet, but he even takes on Coltrane's groundbreaking arrangement of "My Favorite Things" -- and more than holds his own over ten-plus minutes. In fact, every track on the album is around that length; there are extended explorations of two Green originals ("Green Jeans" and the title track) and Duke Pearson's Middle Eastern-tinged "Bedouin," plus the bonus cut "Wives and Lovers," a swinging Bacharach pop tune not on the Japanese issue. The group interplay is consistently strong, but really the spotlight falls chiefly on Green, whose crystal-clear articulation flourishes in this setting. And, for all of Matador's advanced musicality, it ends up being surprisingly accessible. This sound may not be Green's claim to fame, but Matador remains one of his greatest achievements.
The record teams Green with two-thirds of saxophonist John Coltrane's rhythm section of the time—pianist McCoy Tyner and drummer Elvin Jones—plus bassist Bob Cranshaw. The result is nothing less than Green's best album.
The quartet kicks off with the Green original, "Matador," a tune of tempered momentum with Green spinning off his trademark crisp, biting lines over the easy swinging rhythm section. The warm, energetic yet controlled mood may have inspired the tune's title, although the repeated theme at open and close also rumbles with an impressionistic Spanish feel, recalling the bullfight's pasodoble. (Green seemed somewhat enthused with—or, at least, fascinated by—bullfighting at the time, penning the likewise exotic, though more heated, "Plaza de Toros" for organist Larry Young's Into Somethin' album, recorded in November 1964, which also features Green's playing.) Tyner sweeps the sands with his trademark dusting of keys on the number—fleet, supple high-end runs, punctuated by the shifting of deep chordal blocks—creating a fluid, calming effect. And, in spots, hinting at the melody to come on track 2.
If there's an aspect that pushes Matador toward the infamous, it's this second tune: a go at the Coltrane "theme," "My Favorite Things," with half of the saxophonist's band in tow. It took some chutzpah not only to attempt it, but for Green to make the tune his own in this setting without charging decidedly and awkwardly into some far off field of free-jazz experimentation. Green's tone is full, his feel relaxed, as he breezes through the melodic turns before attacking his solo with increased grit and chop, while never losing the comfortable rhythmic feel. His solo stretches out bar after bar, building its intensity unhurriedly through waves of repeatedly sketched chordal figures and bluesy, two-note hammering—a wholly satisfying, sustained and strong release of emotion that culminates naturally with a return to the melody. The Tyner solo that follows is more lively and fluid than his turn on the 1961 Coltrane recording, implying an active engagement with these favorite things rather than the heavy, harmonic clang felt from things lost or slipping away. Still, the tune is almost impossible to cover without relaying something of the anxiety that knits into the feelings we attach to that which we possess, or would like to.
"Green Jeans," another of the guitarist's originals, moves the record into lighter, more amiable fare. Both Green and Tyner solo more freely than on the previous two tracks—Green jangling even in a fit of joyous momentum—to stretch the playful melody to its fullest effect. Duke Pearson's "Bedouin," however, returns the mood to somberness for the close, invoking, as Michael Cuscuna indicates in the liner notes, the Asiatic feel of the nomadic Bedouins. Green's solo here reprises the repetition of arpeggiated figures used to such fine effect in "My Favorite Things." But the highlight is Jones' lone solo of the album, stepping directly from Tyner's sweeping fluidity to craft a wholly musical, polyrhythmic statement that follows an organic progression—or regression—into the most elemental of drumming's voices, ending in a tom-tom beat that wholly deconstructs the tune. When the group joins Jones to restate the theme the melody feels rejuvenated, recreated.
"Matador" (Green) – 10:51
"My Favorite Things" (Oscar Hammerstein II, Richard Rodgers) – 10:23
"Green Jeans" (Green) – 9:10
"Bedouin" (Pearson) – 11:41
"Wives and Lovers" (Bacharach, David) – 9:01 Bonus track on CD reissue
Recorded on May 20 (tracks 1-4) & June 12 (track 5), 1964.
Grant Green - guitar
McCoy Tyner - piano
Bob Cranshaw - bass
Elvin Jones - drums
Posted by Crimhead420 at 5:51 PM