It was a stroke of brilliance on Alfred Lion's part to pair guitarist Grant Green with pianist Sonny Clark in late 1961 and early 1962. The Blue Note producer recorded three albums featuring the lyrical duo, and the results remain sensational. Green on these dates served up startlingly spry, glistening lines on standards and blues numbers. With Miles Davis in mind, Green also left glorious flecks of space between his note runs, allowing the beauty of his ideas to reverberate and linger.
For his part, Clark offered up feathery, pulsating chords and lines, creating an elastic surface on which Green could bounce brightly. Each time Green would toss out challenging lines on the guitar, they were met by a flurry of complementary notes from Clark. The friendly contrast between Green's furious metallic picking and Clark's marshmallow chord choices is something to behold.
Magical jazz partnerships were common in the very early 1960s as jazz artists who had a good thing going stuck with it, prodded by record producers under pressure from the rising rock and r&b phenomena. When you think of dynamic jazz conversationalists from 1961 and 1962, perfect pairings that come to mind are J.J. Johnson and Kai Winding, Dave Brubeck and Paul Desmond, John Coltrane and McCoy Tyner [both pictured], and Al Cohn and Zoot Sims, to name just a few. Green and Clark must be added to this list.
Yesterday, I spent the day re-listening to Grant Green: The Complete Quartets with Sonny Clark (Blue Note). No matter how many times I work through this album, I'm amazed at how many new things I hear and how wonderful the music makes me feel. Green and Clark's soulful exchanges on the minor blues Shadrack is one prime example. The workout they get on What Is This Thing Called Love is another fine example of innovation and interplay. Actually, there isn't a bad track on this entire double CD.
Perhaps my favorite track of all is I Concentrate On You. The Cole Porter standard opens at a mid-tempo pace, allowing Green to virtually think out loud as he experiments with the melody and bends notes. Clark is quick to provide gorgeous fills on Green's breaks, without stealing the show. Once the pace doubles with a walking bass line by Sam Jones, Green shifts into a more intensive mode, with Clark tearing into the keyboard tossing off triplets along the way. Or dig the uptempo The Song Is You, with Green picking at the notes as if using a piece of scrap metal backed by Clark's lush bop lines. Or It Ain't Necessarily So with a highly potent march-time groove.
On these sessions, Green and Clark [pictured] were joined by Jones on bass and drummers Art Blakey and Louis Hayes on different tracks. All of the sidemen could hear the amazing dialogue going on and were wise enough to lay back.
For a brief moment, Green and Clark created one of the prettiest guitar-piano sounds. These are recordings that never cease to amaze.
JazzWax tracks: The tracks on Grant Green: The Complete Quartets with Sonny Clark were issued in Japan on the albums Gooden's Corner (December 23, 1961), Nigeria (January 13, 1962) and Oleo (January 31, 1962). I thought you'd dig seeing the cover illustrations by T. Fujiyama paying homage to Andy Warhol.
Green and Clark went on to record together again in March 1962 on Born to Be Blue, but with Ike Quebec on tenor sax. Through the balance of 1962, Clark recorded two albums with Dexter Gordon (Go! and A Swingin' Affair), two with Jackie McLean (Hypnosis and Tippin' the Scales) and one with Stanley Turrentine (Jubilee Shout). In January 1963, Clark died of a heroin overdose.
If you don't own this album, grab it—the double CD is essential. You'll find it as a download for $20 at iTunes or for $14 at Amazon here. However, the album's title is a bit misleading. Green and Clark did record one track together in a quartet setting in October 1961. Yet this track somehow didn't make the "complete quartets" album. The track is Woody'n You and includes Butch Warren on bass and Billy Higgins on drums. The session must have been a tough one, since seven takes were needed and the other track, Lady Bird, was incomplete and ultimately rejected. Time likely elapsed, and Alfred Lion decided to abandon the date. You'll find the Woody'n You master (take 4) and an alternate (take 7) as downloads on Grant Green: First Session at Amazon here. I downloaded both and added them to my iTunes album folder. Now the Green-Clark quartet sessions are complete.