Jazz Guitar Life thanks JGL writer and researcher Dr. Wayne Goins for this insightful and informative review.
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The son of legendary jazz guitar star Grant Green has re-emerged with a hot new album, featuring songs dedicated to the iconic songwriters in the annals of American music. It’s been a minute since we last heard from Grant—his last album was Soul Science, released in 2016 on Ropeadope Records. This new outing proves that he’s not been wasting any time. To the contrary, he’s been getting stronger over the last few years.
Thank You Mr. Bacharach finds Grant, Jr. performing six fresh arrangements of some of the more popular Burt-penned tunes, with a couple of off-the-beaten-path pieces to add extra flair to the proceedings. Released on July 22, the album is available on all platforms, including Spotify, Pandora, and Tidal.
Grant and his band first began working on the album more than a year ago—COVID knocked it back for almost two years. They started recording in December 2019, and finished it January of 2021, with the music recorded in Atlanta at 800 East Recording Studio. The project was co-produced by Martin Kearns and Khari Simmons (who owns the studio there). With Chad Hagan serving as executive producer, this is Grant’s first project with his music being released on ZMI Records (distributed by Ingrooves/UMG).
Grant delivers these six selections from the Bacharach book with a clean, crisp approach—his articulate, no-frills approach to melodies and soloing is quite refreshing.
The album opens with a slow ballad, “Anyone Who Had A Heart,” a tune that is less familiar than some of the other classics known and loved by Bacharach fans. “I’ve always love Dionne’s version of this tune,” Grant says. Yet another B&B star performed the tune, which had an even bigger impact on Green, recorded by Luther Vandross. “Luther had a version, that’s where I first had the idea to do arrangement, so mine is more like that one than the Warwick recording.” The intensity slowly builds toward the end of the tune and concludes with a safe landing.
He then taps Dionne Warwick’s version of “Here I Go Again,” another one of the less-familiar choices from the Bacharach canon (unlike the rest of the songs on this album, this piece was actually recorded in 2019.) The tune features a military-style drum pattern performed by Larry Newson over a medium-up tempo. Nick Rosen lays down beautiful keyboard parts underneath Grant’s guitar. “It’s a unique arrangement—it’s hard to put it in a category,” admits Green.
On more familiar ground is Green’s excellent treatment of “I’ll Never Fall In Love Again,” displaying the mellow, medium-tempo groove established right from the start. The band sounds tight, and Grant’s Benson-flavored licks on the out-chorus are a delight to hear. This addition to the LP is unique in that a bit of history repeats itself as Grant’s legendary father performed the same tune on his thirteenth album for the Blue Note label [BST 84342] more than fifty years ago. “Dad did it on Green Is Beautiful—that recording taught me how to phrase, how to play pretty…and I was in the studio when they recorded it.” Although the date on the album says January 30, 1970 on Blue Note, Grant questions the accuracy of it. “Actually, it was 1969,” he says… I remember being in Rudy van Gelder’s studio when it occurred—my dad brought me to the session.”
This is smartly followed by “The Look of Love,” a smooth bossa laced with lines of unison guitar and keyboard vibes by Jamie Portee. The warm background accompaniment of acoustic guitar and trumpet makes this the one of the highlights of the album, along with the pleasant and unexpected surprise of female vocals inserted on the poignant lyric, “more than words can ever say.”
The album builds toward the ultimate peak with the epic “Walk On By”—the funky drum intro by Landon Anderson and funky bass of Khari Simmons (who plays superbly throughout the entire album) sets up the deep and wide groove that follows. Grant Green Jr.’s luscious vocals sound so much like Isaac Hayes, I had to do an aural double-take: Did I just hear Hayes’ actual vocals lifted from the Hot Buttered Soul album? An even better question: Did anyone even know Grant could sing? The arrangement is sensual; his scat solo with unison guitar line is delicious, and the outro vamp is slinky and in the pocket. Hands down, it’s my favorite tune on the album.
About the Hayes-influenced pieces on this album, Grant says, “Yeah, I took a serious page out of the Isaac Hayes book on those two tunes.” He also took a page out of the legendary guitarist George Benson’s book when he considered adding vocals on the album. “I wanted to have just one solitary vocal tune on the album—just like GB did on Breezin’ when he included This Masquerade. It worked extremely well for him, so, I thought ‘hey, why not me?’”
“Wives And Lovers” features a samba groove with unison guitar/vibes and background horn riffs that makes the arrangement of this tune really special. Grant serves up a pithy, percolating solo that gets to the point with no wasted flash, followed by not only a tasty piano solo but also a sophisticated alto solo by Ayodeji Coker that sounds a bit like the work of legendary David Sanborn. The tune reaches its peak when the background parts drop out and the groove is sustained by only the drums, rhythm guitar and bass. The full band kicks in again and the outro gradually builds up to a seriously funky vamp.
For this impressive session, Grant plays left-handed, custom built guitars for his recordings and live performances. He has an ‘80s Japanese Gibson/Epiphone Sheraton for most of the rhythm guitar parts, he generally employs his 2000 D’Angelico archtop for the rhythm parts—he smartly recorded his archtop using no direct inputs mics, which gave the guitar a natural acoustic effect when he recorded it using a mic strategically placed in front of the archtop.
Overall, these Bacharach tunes chosen by Grant are treated with respect and delivered in a dignified manner, and I am certain that ol’ Burt would be pleased. The good news here is that it’s only the beginning—Green says that this collection represents Volume 1, and that a companion set will be completed in the near future, featuring other classic Bacharach tunes. If this current album serves as any indication, the second edition should be well-worth the wait.
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