Grant Green • Talkin' About

Blue Note/Music Matters MMBST-84183
45rpm double-record set
1964/2010

Music

Sound

Larry Young • Unity

Blue Note/Music Matters MMBST-84221
45rpm double-record set
1965/2010

Music

Sound

by Marc Mickelson | July 3, 2010

wo new Music Matters double-LP 45rpm sets appear each month, triggering those who subscribe to the series to schedule listening time and make room on their shelves. Joe Harley and Ron Rambach, the principals of Music Matters, have made it difficult to overlook any of the titles they've released so far. They've picked some of Blue Note's most musically significant sessions, instead of simply re-releasing all of the label's chestnuts. They know this music inside out, and with their informed choices they lead buyers through its vast landscape, some months traveling the well-worn path and the road not taken simultaneously.

If you haven't subscribed to the series, instead choosing titles based on the style of music, the lineup of musicians, or Internet buzz, let me suggest two from the mid-1960s that are well worth cherry-picking. They overlap in personnel and, not coincidentally, in their musical ambitions.

While Jimmy Smith was Blue Note's headlining Hammond B-3 player, Larry Young was more firmly rooted in the inventive ethic of the label, arguably doing more to expand the vocabulary of his instrument. Unity is his masterpiece, a work of melodic angularity in which Young's playing calls to mind the '60s heavy-hitters on sax -- John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins. Trumpeter Woody Shaw played on the session and contributed three original numbers, including the hard-driving opener, "Zoltan." As its title suggests, "Monk's Dream" is ostensibly a keyboard number, but here it belongs to drummer Elvin Jones and his positively athletic pounding. Joe Henderson on sax rounds out the quintet and lends expert support, carrying the melody during some of Young's most Byzantine soloing.

Talkin' About is overshadowed in Grant Green's discography by Idle Moments, recorded two years later, but it remains a unique expression. Larry Young is here, a year before Unity, as is Elvin Jones. This trio would record three sessions together, and Talkin' About is the first and best of them. It builds on the modal exploration of Green's quintet dates, opening with the nearly 12-minute workout "Talkin' About J.C.," an homage to John Coltrane written by Young that swells to a crashing climax. There are three well-worked covers given treatment that's both sympathetic and expansive, including Johnny Mercer's "I'm an Old Cowhand," which would be a peculiar choice had Sonny Rollins not opened Way Out West with it. Green and Young are singularly brilliant throughout, their soloing lifting the proceedings to a higher musical consciousness.

Both albums display wide bandwidth and dynamic range, and as with other Music Matters releases, the bass region has newfound power. "One thing we pay particular attention to with these great recordings featuring Larry Young," Joe Harley told me, "is to make sure his amazing work on the bass pedals comes through clearly. If the system is up to it, you’ll be able to feel as well as hear Young’s bass-pedal work." And so you can. Both titles are in stereo and the spread is similar, with Young locking down the center and Jones firmly in the right channel. The thick LPs are quiet to the bottom of the groove, all the better for revealing the music's glory.

These are formidable sessions whose rewards multiply with repeated listening. They're also a reminder of Blue Note's primacy among jazz labels. Music Matters announced 64 titles initially and then added 80 more to the queue. Amidst them all, be sure you don't miss these two. As they say, once they're gone, they're gone.

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