Grant Green – Alive!

Grant Green Alive! Cover Art

After taking somewhat of a hiatus in the late 60s, Grant Green re-emerged triumphant in a most funky manner. Suddenly his intricate jazz lines and easy going musicianship became hard driving, no apology funk that split most Grant Green fans right down the middle. While some may prefer his earlier classic jazz work and others prefer his edgier funk period, one thing is certain: Grant Green is the MAN.

Alive! finds the Grant Green sextet pulverizing the stage with hypnotic funk grooves that seem to go on for days. Recorded at the Cliche Lounge in Newark, NJ on August 15, 1970, the band is captured playing a smoking hot set in front of a lively New Jersey audience. You can almost hear the drinks clinking in the background…

From the first track to the last, Green is a complete madman on guitar, slinging funky in-the-pocket solos left and right. His ending solo on “Let the Music Take Your Mind” is nothing short of amazing and just thinking about it gives me goosebumps. With each pass his lines get tighter and funkier, supplying a never ending cache of creative riffs. As he goes into a repeating pattern of licks the band, especially drummer Idris Muhammad, picks up the groove and they somehow actually manage to make things even heavier. Simply astonishing.

“Time to Remember” gives a much needed breather after the funk overload that just ensued. The melody, awash in a laid back latin tinged groove, is gorgeous and made all the more beautiful by Willie Bivens on vibes. Green reminds everyone he hasn’t lost a touch of his melodic magic and delivers a wonderful thought provoking solo, resplendent in that classic jazz tone of his.

“Sookie, Sookie” hits next…hard. The band plays the main riff with confident authority as Green’s solo sneaks in with a cascading line I could listen to all day. His playing is crystal clear and so cemented in the groove it defies all musical logic – he sounds like some kind of time keeping machine as he weaves in and out of the pulsating groove that steadily grows behind him.

Organist Ronnie Foster and sax player Claude Bartee each get a chance to shine with some well played solos that glide across the top of the groove. But it’s Green we came to hear and it’s Green that shall deliver. Once again it’s his ending solo that should get all the praise. Deep in the pocket and played with an amazing attention to dynamics and phrasing, Green takes his time building up the funk. The interplay between Green and his band is stunning and you wish, oh how you wish, the groove would continue on indefinitely.

Grant Green Alive! Disc Art

“Down Here on the Ground” presents the only track on the album that presents Green as sole soloist. Here, Green’s master ability to play a fully engaging melody is on full display. Things are laid back and deep in the cut and then, without warning, Green launches into another funky solo brimming with all of Green’s best characteristics. The repeating figures, the slow phrasing, the multi note comping, it’s all here live on stage. And again, AGAIN, Green has the audacity to deliver a second stunning solo during the outro.

“Hey Western Union Man” is as funky as New Jersey will allow by law and features Green (do I even really need to say this at this point?) delivering a pointed, funky solo that is all over the fretboard and yet always lies right in the groove. His little slide up the fretboard around 3:17, followed by those hard hitting repeating figures, is something I always point out to people as the perfect example of why Grant Green is so spectacular. In that one second of music he places a sliding note that is just exactly perfect and for a moment, a single moment, there is nobody else on the planet like Grant Green.

“It’s Your Thing” gets down and greasy and features Green, Foster, and Bartee delivering smoking solos throughout. As the song fades out mid groove I have to wonder if the tape ran out or what. Almost all the other tracks thus far have had the band fade themselves out which to me is always nice. Still, the song smokes.

The Herbie Hancock classic “Maiden Voyage” rounds out the disc and rightfully so. Here we get proof that Green and company were not so far into the funk that they couldn’t still jazz out with the best of them. The solos are all classy and insightful, Green’s in particular harkening back to his early Blue Note days. For a moment it sounds like 1961 all over again.

Alive! marks a huge turning point in both Grant Green’s career and the evolving face of jazz. Things were just starting to get really funky, a funk that would soon turn a little too smooth as disco and the 80s (ugh…) settled in. But, in 1970, and under Green’s leadership, the funk in jazz was still new and exciting and there is nowhere else to hear it in such a pure, raw form. The band is hot, Green is laying groove after groove, and the air is positively humming with electricity. This is the real deal motherlode in the world of jazz funk. Do not even bother with anything else…this is IT.

Tracklist

  1. “Let the Music Take Your Mind” – 8:42
  2. “Time To Remember” – 11:19
  3. Band introduction by Buddy Green – 0:32
  4. “Sookie, Sookie” – 11:10
  5. “Down Here on the Ground” – 6:45
  6. Hey, Western Union Man – 7:46
  7. It’s Your Thing– 9:17
  8. Maiden Voyage – 10:58

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