Grant Green's sunday mornin'—A Blue Note That Got Away!

Single-line guitarist Grant Green's fourth Blue Note album released in 1962 is as easy to listen to and relaxing as the title suggests. Kenny Drew is on piano with Ben Tucker, bass and Ben Dixon on drums in a set of six tunes with inspiration and/or vaguely religious themes, three of which are Green originals.

The Green penned opener "Freedom March" has a relaxed, bluesy swagger with Drew doing a one note thing—sometimes long remarkably fast and clean arpeggiated runs— over on the right channel complimenting Grant's similar one note at a time style. The absence of chords on fret and keyboard produces an airy, open sound aided by a remarkably spacious and clean, yet precise Van Gelder recording, particularly Drew's piano. Rarely has Rudy gotten so sparkling and open a piano sound and the air behind both Green and Dixon is notable.

The title tune is a joyous, optimistic gospel that may remind you of Steve Allen and Ray Brown's "Gravy Waltz". The side ends with Ernest Gold's theme to the movie "Exodus", which was also jazzed up around the time of this recording by Eddie Harris on the Vee-Jay album Exodus to Jazz (Vee-Jay 3016), though Green's take in keeping with the album's groove is more relaxed and swinging.

Side two opens with a cover of the familiar "God Bless and Child" (who has his own money) that the quartet takes at an appropriately slow pace allowing Billie Holiday's ironic lyrics written with Arthur Herzog, Jr. (of course not heard here, but who doesn't know them?) to deliberately roll out. Green's "Come Sunrise" follows. It's the album's most uptempo track and gives Green an opportunity to show off his clarity of line and swinging abilities. The closer is an unusual take on Miles Davis's classic "So What" that if you didn't read the title might have you thinking "where have I heard that before?" without being able to correctly identify it. Green inverts the emphasis and you may at first thing you're hearing a reprise of the ending of "Freedom March".

So how is this a Blue Note reissue that got away? It's unusual in that it's neither a Music Matters nor a Tone Poet Blue Note reissue. Rather, the license was snagged by record industry veteran Tom "Grover" Biery, who if you don't know the name might know from a series of extraordinary Warner Brothers AAA vinyl releases he instigated when he worked for the label at a time when the majors didn't really give a shit about vinyl, which was still a tiny revenue blip while CDs were still booming.

Biery asked for and got permission to issue a series of great titles from tape, cut by Bernie Grundman including James Taylor's Sweet Baby James, Van Morrison greats like Astral Weeks and His Band and the Street Choir and albums by ZZ Top along with some others. Somehow, a number of years ago, for his new label Slow Down Sounds he managed to license this outstanding Grant Green title, mastered by Kevin Gray, pressed at RTI and packaged laminated "Tip On" style by Stoughton, though here not in a gatefold edition. It took Biery some time to finally get it cut produced and released. Now it's out.

What makes this record particularly special is the sound. Firstly, Kenny Drew's piano is easily among the best sounding Van Gelder has ever recorded, which Kevin Gray surmises in one of the video interviews you can find on the label's website or perhaps on YouTube was the result of Ben Dixon's light drum touch that didn't require Rudy to physically pad down the piano with the mikes tucked inside. So the piano has a refreshingly light and open sound though with plenty of body. Drew moved to Denmark shortly after recording this set. Of course he famously played on Coltrane's " Blue Train and on Kenny Dorham's Whistle Stop.

So yes, even if you have a wall of Blue Notes, few manage to sound quite this uniformly precise and natural. Was it just a great recording day for Rudy? Or did the fact that Biery packed up the lacquers and immediately drove from the Valley to Camarillo to have them plated at RTI? No doubt the quicker the plating the better, but I'm betting most of the fabulous sound is due to a good Rudy date combined with light touch playing all around.

A great sounding (demo quality) and musically pleasurable Blue Note session that's easy to recommend. Underrated and under appreciated, Green, who passed away in 1979 at age 43, never attained Wes Montgomery's level of popularity though he should have. It's never too late!

gmeese34's picture

Plaid Room Records in Loveland, OH have an exclusive blue version if anyone is interested. Still in stock on their site

stretch35's picture

thanks, ordered

himynameisjuan's picture

It's been a good year for Grant Green reissues on vinyl. I picked up "Grant's First Stand" and "Born to Be Blue". Will have to keep an eye out for this one. Hopefully next year brings "Matador"? "Green Street"? They're all great records.

saxman73's picture

Thanks for the heads up. Planning on picking up that one. I love Grant Green!

TimThomas's picture

Come on now. “Exodus” is yet another flutter festival. I don’t know what is going on at Cohearent or RTI but they are quite literally butchering some of the best jazz music ever recorded.

TimThomas's picture

Come to think of it, it cannot be RTI because none of MoFi’s stuff has had these issues. Nearly every Blue Note reissue with piano done at Cohearent in 2019 has flutter problems not present on any previous reissue. Even some also done at Cohearent as recently as 2017 (Indestructible) and 2015 (Hub-Tones).

Something at Cohearent is out of whack. We can sugarcoat it all we want because the guy is a fantastic engineer with a great sounding rig, but the notion that all of these Blue Note tapes have simultaneously gone south in 2019 seems a stretch of epic proportions.

Michael Fremer's picture
Citing some that have no flutter issues is not "proof" that anyone is butchering anything. No one is sugar coating anything!
Michael Fremer's picture
By attempting to blame a pressing plant for this kind of issue you demonstrate a total lack of understand about the process. What's more, I have no idea what kind of turntable you used for that transfer. Furthermore, Kevin Gray's playback machine has been thoroughly tested and has wow and flutter measurements well below the machines used to record these things in the first place. There's no doubt that 60 year old tapes have issues that can produce these kinds of results. It's fixable in the digital domain so I suggest you listen to CDs. In any case I think you have a fetish.
TimThomas's picture

I used a Technics G and Nagaoka MP-300 for my rip. I also have a MK5 and a various other turntables. Same problem.

How does Kenny Drew’s piano sound on the opening of “Exodus” to you? Maybe take a listen and report back?

Sorry, I don’t buy the tape explanation for a second. A lot of these are on Scotch 111. That stuff will break before it stretches. Maybe it is Gray’s lathe? A bad stamper at RTI is not impossible but given the plethora of reports on nearly every 2019 Blue Note reissue, yes, I thought about that and also other labels using RTI without issue and ruled it out.

You really think all of these Blue Note tapes are all developing major flutter problems in 2019? How do you explain Gray himself having done some of these same titles just 2-3 years ago without these issues? And how many of these have been done in recent years by Grundman or Gray or Gray/Hoffman without these issues?

Don’t shoot the messengers, man. Maybe Gray will need to get a different deck no matter how his current playback is “measuring.” The bottom line is that we don’t know, so we can only guess. So far the idea that the tapes are all going south at the same time seems improbable at best. Now his Chet Baker stuff has reports of these problems as a real drag as everybody loves the sound of Cohearent. It’s the very best in my view.

Ryan K Smith cut Blakey’s Freedom Rider for VMP. That was AAA, right? Guess what? No speed problems. Granted, that is only one title, but Kevin Gray has not done a Blue Note title without newly introduced flutter for most of 2019. There are like 45 pages on this at the Hoffman site with multiple people reporting the same problems. Sound clips are available.

Anyway, you seem to question how I did the rip on the one hand, yet claim the tapes have gone bad on the other. So you acknowledge the issues but still question my rip? Fair enough. Anyway..
. as I said, the RTI thing I take back. I was thinking aloud there. I think many of us are *trying* to figure out what is going on, as we are not being given very good info from Blue Note. When it came up that “McNeil Island” on Andrew Hill’s “ Black Fire” was enough to cause seasickness, Joe Harley said it was Hill’s atonal style and a somewhat out of tune piano. So, yeah.

TimThomas's picture

Speaking of Black Fire, here is a comparison. Forgive the less than perfect RVG but I only have a ‘70s UA reissue and it’s a bit noisy.

McNeil Island (mid ‘70s Blue Note UA reissue, RVG stampers):

McNeil Island (Tone Poet reissue):

bkinthebk's picture

really show the problem. The part that doesn't make sense to me is that there are issues on albums that were recently released on Music Matters and the MM are not pitchy, but the TP or Blue Note 80th are. I believe Kevin/Joe when they say that Cohearant's gear is up to spec (i really don't think they would be purposely dishonest because they have more to lose than to gain in the long run), but then what's the problem? Tapes go bad, but were this many tapes fine for 50 years and then not fine en masse when they reached 53 years of age? It seems like too much of a coincidence.

Also, on a somewhat related note ... I've purchased 10 of the Tone Poet releases (multiple copies in all cases) and not a single one has been flat or perfectly centered. I mean ... 20 of 20 TP's that i've placed on my turntable have been warped to some degree. That's an RTI thing for sure.

I think a lot of people are scared to complain because some of the greatest music ever is getting the AAA treatment and they don't want to scare off the committed souls who are putting in the effort to release the music this way, but it's just extremely weird that no one has a plausible answer for why these releases are having pitch problems. If Kevin/Joe came out and said: "look, something weird happened and the tapes all got old at the same time in just a matter of years and we're doing the best we can," then i think it would be time to stop complaining and either deal with it or buy old pressings or digital versions, but I think people suspect something might be funky with the Cohearant setup and feel that if they speak up, then maybe someone will take notice. The best way to prove that would be to see if non-Blue Note albums coming out of Cohearant are also having issues. Can't think of another way to isolate it.

TimThomas's picture

Great points. Just to respond to your last one; it has been reported by multiple people that the new Chet Baker ‘It Could Happen To You’ reissue mastered at Cohearent has this same problem. Are the Riverside tapes also all going bad at the exact same time?

This must be the most amazing coincidence in music archive history. I think the Science channel could do a special on it. Seriously, it is that weird.

AnalogJ's picture

Let's say that the problem is due to old tapes? But why has this problem only cropped up this year, 2019? And as I have asked before, why did Steve Hoffman and Kevin Gray produce a beautiful, perfect reissue of Herbie Hancock's Inventions & Dimensions just 7 years ago. Yet this year's reissue from Blue Note's 80th Anniversary series, mastered and cut by Kevin Gray, is a mess with regard to the pitch warbling?

Many posting here have been buying and playing Music Matters and Analogue Productions Blue Note reissues for many, many years. Sure, and individual copy may have an example of non-fill or something like that, but that problem is with the individual copy. Not one example, to my knowledge, of pitch warble. Yet this year, many records done by Kevin Gray exhibit this. As The Beave might say, "What gives?"

Kevin Gray tested his equipment and it tested within spec. But could there be electricity issues that might cause intermittent warbling? I'm just throwing darts at a target, but we'd all love to know why this is happening.

jon9091's picture

Why don't you post one of your own, made on your $583,367 dollar system....and show us all that the problem does not exist on your copy?

AnalogJ's picture

It doesn't take a half-million dollar system to detect this.

In fairness to Michael, we ended up doing an interesting experiment on the Steve Hoffman Forum where someone posted samples of some bad warbling. The Tone Poets of Black Fire and Now He Sings, Now He Sobs were excerpted on separate posts. Some clearly heard the problem. Some heard it a little bit. Some didn't hear it at all. It became clear that not everyone is sensitive to pitch warbling or pitch issues in general.

That it occurs in the exact same places on the copies of everyone who is able to discern the problem shows that it's not a problem with individual copies. Somewhere in the production chain is causing these issues, and these issues have only just arisen this year. So it's certainly curious.

novy's picture

on these releases are not a fetish, they are a real problem. I am not able to tune them out even if I don't focus on the music. It is both wow and flutter present throughout these LPs, most of the Tone Poets and BN80 releases (and the Grant Green record above) that have a piano are affected, to different degrees. Some I can still listen to and enjoy, some are are simply unlistenable since they sound like the piano is melting as it is being played.

Pitch is so fundamental to experiencing the beauty of music that I have to ask myself, how someone, especially someone like you, could call this a fetish? Does releasing LPs with issues that fundamentally alter the recorded material bring us closer to experiencing the music as it was played in RVGs recording studio 50+ years ago?

kimi imacman's picture

that you don’t hear this issue on Exodus, especially the opening bars? It’s like it’s a ‘three peddle piano’ the third one being the note bender! If you don’t I guess we appreciate music differently. Please accept the challenge above and post your perfect clip.
You of all people are a champion for getting reissues done right and I’ve always respected that so please don’t call me a fetish when I try to be a discerning as you.

kimi imacman's picture

that you don’t hear this especially on the opening bars of Exodus? It’s like it’s played on a ‘three peddle piano’, the third one being a note bender!

kimi imacman's picture

if you don’t then maybe you should accept the challenge above a post a perfect clip: and also therefore I suspect we appreciate music in differing ways therefore.
You of all people are a champion for getting reissues done right and I respect you for that so please don’t call me a fetishist when I try to emulate your usual high standards.

AnalogJ's picture

Michael may just be one of those who aren't sensitive to pitch aberrations, or at least pitch warbling. Not everyone is. Played a sample with clear pitch warbling on the Steve Hoffman Forum, not everyone was able to say that heard it. Some said they did. A waveform graph showed that the problem existed.

I know that you, personally, are part of that forum and have participated in the thread. A great hifi doesn't guarantee that the person listening is capable of hearing everything portrayed in front of them. Your ability to hear depends on being trained to discern certain qualities, age (bandwidth diminishes with age), and certain innate abilities such as perfect and relative pitch.

A great hifi DOES reveal more complete tonality, wider bandwidth, greater dynamics, more sophisticated and layered soundstage, etc. You should get a more musical experience with better equipment, and it should be more revealing, but that doesn't mean everyone will hear the same thing.

kimi imacman's picture

it’s what I do for a living as you probably know. If you reread Mikey’s comments they allude to him hearing this too. “ There's no doubt that 60 year old tapes have issues that can produce these kinds of results.” I don’t expect him to take the challenge for obvious reasons. Bear in mind Mr Fremer is usually the first to call that a deck has speed issues and measures them to the point most of us could not audibly detect using Dr F test disc and software and berates Rega for being a tad fast etc etc so how could a record with such obvious speed issues be judged “demo quality”? I would never play this disc for fear of having to explain this whole sage to each client. I for one truly doubt any inabilities here at all which is meant as a compliment I do wonder however what else those that are so insensitive to pitch variations are missing out because so much music uses micro pitch in its composition; sorry but one can’t have it both ways.

nobonemovies's picture

The packaging for this release is absolutely top notch!!! The Tone Poet series (and all other reissues) should copy this packaging to a 'T' and ditch the gatefold excess.

xtcfan80's picture

I just gave my copy of this a listen. The piano on the start of Exodus does sound a bit off ...the problem sounds tape condition related but without an early BN pressing to compare I couldn't say for sure....anyone have a 1960s copy to compare? Overall I am happy with the release, much less $ than an original to be sure...