Monday, November 12, 2012

Grant Green at The Holy Barbarian in St. Louis

While not being released with the fanfare accorded a recent release of the recent Resonance release of Wes Montgomery Echoes of Indiana Avenue, Uptown Records has released a similar live recording of another legendary guitarist Grant Green, The Holy Barbarian/ St. Louis 1959. Like the Montgomery recording, this issues a live recording of Green from before he would receive national prominence. He is heard with an organ trio of organist Sam Lazar and Chauncey Williams augmented by the white tenor saxophonist Bob Graf at a short-lived coffee house that was pioneering in bringing together black and white musicians and audiences together at a time when the authorities frowned on such mingling (to say it mildly). Bob Blumenthal’s essay that is part of the accompanying booklet discusses the club and the harassment that led to its eventual closing not long after these recordings were made. There are some press clippings in the booklet describing the harassment that led to its close.

At the time of these performances, Green was on a cusp of his national career. His participation in after-hours jamming with members of Harry Edison’s band in St. Louis led him to make his first recordings with members of Edison’s band that appeared under Jimmy Forrest’s name for Delmark (All the Gin Is Gone and Black Forrest). Green was the best known of the artists but the others had interesting careers including Graf who was a veteran of Woody Herman’s Band and having returned to St. Louis was recorded by Bob Koester for an album issued on Delmar (which would become Delmark). Sam Lazar took up organ after hearing Jimmy Smith, and was signed to Chess’ Argo subsidiary where he recorded three albums between 1960 and 1962, the first of which included Green and Williams. 

This live date was from Christmas, 1959 with the exception of one track from February, 1960, and is really nice album of straight-ahead organ jazz with Green and Graf shining. Graf’s playing illustrates why labels such as East Coast and West Coast sometimes are meaningless. Listening to the blues titled for this release as The Holy Barbarian Blues, I was struck by how much his playing reminded me of Dexter Gordon and Teddy Edwards while Green is sizzling with his driving single note runs. Lazar may have had limitations with his use of the bass pedal, but he really gets things greasy on this on which everyone takes a solo. This is a pretty hot blues performance that fades to an end.

Another bluesy performance taken at a medium tempo is Caramu (Blue Caribou), that Blumenthal speculates which gain opens with more bluesy tenor followed by Green who makes his initial statement and crafts his solo before Graf taking the lead out. Groovin‘ High, is one of the standards the group performed that night with Green displaying some of the musical imagination as well as chops that would lead to his greater recognition (By the end of 1960 he would begin his Blue Note association). Lazar’s Deep is another lengthy blues that is attacked by the group with considerable fervor. 

A driving rendition of Blue Train, includes some poetry from Pete Simpson who was also the MC that night which was included to illustrate the atmosphere of the club which presented poetry as well as music. Green is really strong here before Lazar takes the tempo down as Simpson delivers his poetry that Blumenthal observes“ is not likely to be included in any anthologies of twentieth-century verse.” Simpson is riffing on lines from lyrics in classic blues and American popular songs in his poetry, although few would disagree with Blumenthal's assessment of the poetry’s quality. 

Blue Train concludes nearly 70 minutes of what was a strong performance of blues and hard-bop organ jazz. It is another one of Uptown Records Flashback Series that also included an excellent Dexter Gordon in Montreal CD. The sound is quite good given the source material and the accompanying booklet is superb. This terrific release will be essential to fans of Grant Green and certainly one that fans of hard bop will certainly want to give a listen to.

I purchased this recording.


Anonymous said...

Crisp and pristine digital transfer from 1959 analog recordings.

Grant shines, so does Graf and Lazar, but Chauncey seems to be overlooked.
His drumming sets the pace, his shuffels are just that.
What ever happend to this cat?

Some tracks do contain strange loops, where the loops are not really seamless.

Odd coverphoto,Grant is holding or actually playing a Fender guitar.

Purchased the album November 2012, and it is still in one of my CD-players.

A must have......

RWA said...

Good to hear some new material from Grant Green, but owners of the recording didn't even managed to realise the version of "Groovin' high" is not at the right speed (at least one tone down) ! Such a Shame...