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I Want To Hold Your Hand
LP (12" album, 33 rpm)
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I Want To Hold Your Hand
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A Blue Note essential, I Want To Hold Your Hand is part of the Blue Note 75 anniversary vinyl reissue campaign, featuring 100 titles
and key to the initiative is high quality audio at affordable prices
. Also available this month on LP: Art Blakey Quintet's A Night At Birdland, Vol. 1, Bobby Hutcherson's Components, Lee Morgan's Search For The New Land and Medeski Martin & Wood's End Of The World Party (Just In Case).
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Part of exploring jazz is the enjoyment you get from discovery and then gradually or sooner, buying and digging great music that has appealed to multiple generations and is still in modest but faithful demand. I read about Green, and bought "Idle Moments" and that was all I needed. Hugely influenced by sax player Charlie Parker, Green preferred taking a horn approach to his playing, eschewing most rhythm guitar playing and waiting his turn to play with some of jazz' greatest players. Not that he couldn't play chords - he did a three piece album "Green Street" that has his chord work, and it's just as tasteful as his leads, although not as prevalent.
"I Want To Hold Your Hand" was recorded in 1965, and the inclusion of the Beatles' much loved tune shows the enormous impact they had on music at large. Chet Atkins did a great album of nothing but Beatles tunes, called "Chet Atkins Picks On The Beatles". Wes Montgomery covered "A Day In the Life" and "Eleanor Rigby" on one album, and of course rock musicians and others have been, in my opinion, mangling songs that did not need redone, the worst of all Joe Cocker's atrocity "With A Little Help From My Friends". This version is so bad Cocker should have faced capital punishment for it.
But Grant Green, like Jeff Beck and Jimi Hendrix, showed his own brilliance with a very different take on the song. With a little help from Larry Young (pun intended), the legendary Hammond B-3 player, who would do a fantastic jam with no other than Jimi Hendrix in a few short years, titled simply "Young/Hendrix" that first appeared on "Nine To The Universe" but is now on a four disc Hendrix compilation, Green creates a totally different vibe and through careful use of the original vocal melody lines, showed how even a raw blistering rock song could have new life as a hard bop tune. I have always been of the view that only the best have ever covered the Beatles successfully, citing the opinion that their music was perfect as was, and nobody could improve on them. (Aerosmith is another band that deserves severe punishment for destroying "Come Together"). Green doesn't make "I Want To Hold Your Hand" better, but still does a masterful arrangement.
This album is a tad bit more laid back in places, but it's vintage Grant Green and Larry Young. I'll admit due to my age (56) that what were considered standards in the glory days of hard bop, the early 1950's to late 1960's, can be unfamiliar to me. Some were show tunes, and ironically, for being a musician myself who loves lots of different stuff (see my other reviews to see what I mean), I hate musicals, as they somehow define cornball in very specific terms to my ears, but what makes jazz so special is taking an otherwise duff song like "My Favorite Things" and making it actually good, as Green did on another album. So the song origins don't matter as much as his ability to make them good, and providing as tasteful and melodic soloing as you'll ever hear. This album isn't his best that I have, and I still have several to go, maybe with the exception of his 1970's stuff that is usually described as very sub-par, due in part to his tragic drug addiction. That honor right at the moment goes to "Street of Dreams", another of three albums he did with Larry Young. Still, it's great, and a must have for Green fans. Now to get to his debut, and a few other chestnuts.
Grant Green's technical skills are, in some respects, relatively modest, yet I can't recall anyone coming any closer to Wes Montgomery than Green does while extracting from the guitar a fat, resonant sound, getting extra color and interest from the vibrations of each string, as though the tone were doubling itself. Even when he gets a bit hung up in his lines, or hooked on a riff, he's rewards attentive listening. The previous Swedish reviewer is on target about the inventiveness of the guitar solo on "This Could Be the Start," but Green's production of sound is equally arresting.
Why do Russell Malone, Ulf Wakenius, Herb Ellis, Jimmy Raney, Jim Hall, Frisell and any number of players settle for such a light, "surfacy," frequently "muted" sound? And it's not a matter of electronics, amplification or flirting with distort pedals. Green "grabs" the string and wrings every last juicy overtone from a note. (Wish I'd known about this version when I had dinner and a long conversation with the composer of "This Could Be the Start," Steve Allen--I couldn't think of much to say about the song other than it sounded like a "vaudeville" opener, an observation Allen assured me was mine alone.) Green also comes up with an inspired, emotional statement on another tune which, like the Beetles and Allen songs, is rarely performed as an instrumental: on Cole Porter's "At Long Last Love" his melodic lines breathe with vocal-like expressiveness.
Larry Young is the organist who during this period succeeded more completely than any other in removing the instrument from the church. If you can't take too much of J. Smith, Groove Holmes, J. McGriff, etc., don't throw out the baby with the bath water. Young at this time had a modernist approach rivaled only by Wes' organist, Melvin Rhyne. He makes the sanctified behemoth sound like a sedate, smoldering (not sizzling) siren, incapable of overstaying and wearing out its welcome.
The recording was made around the time of "A Love Supreme" and of Elvin's parting company with Coltrane. But you'd never guess he was "THE" progressive, eruptive, polyrhythmic drummer extraordinaire from the tasteful, in-the-pocket work (mostly on brushes) he submits on this occasion. Elvin's straightahead playing here makes more understandable his decision to hook up with the Ellington band for a brief stint in '65 (of course, Duke wasn't about to fire Sam Woodyard, so Elvin had to endure being a side-kick which, I know from talking to both drummers, went down no better with Sam than Elvin).
Hank Mobley--for my money there was none better before 1966 (notwithstanding his apparent anemic showing on the two-tenor match-up with Coltrane on Miles' Columbia date "Someday My Prince Will Come"). Count on Mobley to make melodic magic out of any harmonic progression, even some of the nasty ones selected on this session. Dig his simple but eloquent solo on the title tune, in effect "setting the stage" for Green; then listen to his flowing, continually inventive and melodically-rich work on the following, uptempo "Speak Low." The man can do no wrong. Unfortunately, Mobs doesn't get an opportunity on "This Could be the Start," and as good as Green is on the tune, the date suffers for the brief absence of the tenor great.
"I Want to Hold" was obviously another of Blue Note's desperate attempts to replicate Wes' success at A&M records. It's a refreshing change from the label's repeated efforts to come up with yet another "Sidewinder" (the original wasn't that great). But Alfred Lion, Francis Wolf, and Van Gelder had run out the string once Jimmy Smith got a better offer--a glorious run, approximately 30 years, beginning with Sidney Bechet and ending with the "Incredible" (Lion's designation) Boss of the B3. Today, the label is precisely that--a label, or rubric, employed by EMI records for marketing purposes.
Imagine the unlikelihood, if not completely absurdist notion, that a 1965 guitar/B3 jazz session featuring "I Want to Hold Your Hand" would sound fresh, vital, inexhaustible nearly half a century later! This recording is a minor masterpiece, a glittering gem, a timeless honey of a session, a constant companion and welcome friend that you'll want to keep close at hand at all times. However you store and play your music, be extra careful that this deceptively innocuous and polite little recording doesn't become "parted out" and subsequently buried in that vast virtual junkyard of MP3 files that fragments human experience and levels life's meaningful musical moments to the same muted monotone.