An Introduction. I was asked to write a series of regular reviews of albums for Echo Music, the criteria being that they couldn't be current albums, but didn't necessarily have to be classics from the past. They could be albums maligned by the artist's fans. They could also be albums that have undoubtably become integral to the history of jazz music. As long as they're old, I'm allowed to talk unendingly about them. So here's the first.
Disclaimer. Remember reader, that reviews are only opinions and never set in stone. Opinions can and should change over time. A review is a snapshot of an individual's opinion at a given moment in time. It also reflects the current tastes of the time, though I try not to allow this to influence my opinion at the time of writing (which is impossible).
Each album is listened to three times before being reviewed.
From The Vault: #001
Idle Moments - Grant Green
Joe Henderson tenor saxophone
Bobby Hutcherson vibraphone
Grant Green guitar
Duke Pearson piano
Bob Cranshaw double bass
Al Harewood drums
Label Blue Note
Producer Alfred Lion
Moments of Idleness
Blue Note Records symbolises jazz in the 50s and 60s at its commercial peak; a studio that churned out albums with formulae and patterns in their construction that made them instantly marketable. They often had a title track that worked almost as the lead single of the album. These tracks were driven with simple rhythmic grooves that newcomers to jazz music could find easily accessible and allowed the soloists (who would be gigging as regularly as every night) to display their honed skills without losing the simple melodic heart of the compositions. Grant Green's Idle Moments is very much one of these albums.
Reading the original liner notes and the composer names of the individual tracks, it becomes apparent that, despite Grant Green's name being the billed leader, Duke Pearson had a strong influence over the direction of this album. Two of the compositions (the title track and "Nomad") were written by him; the liner notes, written by Duke, explain how he and Alfred Lion dictated the length of the pieces by how many choruses each soloist would take.
The album has a strongly organised feel to it. The tracklisting is sequenced in a slow-fast-slow-fast order and there are also two very lengthy tracks on it. The problem I found on first listening was that it's very predictable. Harmonically, very little happens that you don't expect. Extreme dissonance is nowhere to be heard and the whole thing bubbles along without causing too much of a fuss. I had a problem with this at the start. Forty minutes had gone by and I could hardly remember any individual moments, only an overall groove with tight harmonic playing on top. By the third listen I had warmed to aspects of this album.
The soloists are a strange mix of personalities. Joe Henderson is the best player on here. Particularly on the bouncing modal tune "Nomad", we can hear Henderson working within the simplistic form presented to him and searching for interesting melodic material he can develop. The moments when he solos on the album were my favourite bits. Bobby Hutcherson is the curve ball inclusion in the front line. A player known more for his avant garde work, here he plays it straight, adding inoffensive and pleasant solos. However, you don't get the impression that he's in love with the date. None of his contributions add his unique character as a player to the recording, it could easily be another vibes player then you find yourself looking at the liner notes and going "Oh, it's Bobby Hutcherson".
Grant Green himself plays the majority of the first solos on each track, takes solid enough solos, plays the melody cleanly and clearly when he does. But none of this ever really lifts the album out of its safe comfort zone. Bob Cranshaw and Al Harewood are almost like backing tracks, churning away beneath the soloists in an almost faceless fashion. Pearson improvises in a composer's way, safe and melodic figures underpin his improvisation. Each one makes sense and occasionally adds something interesting to the proceedings, but it never really cooks on gas.
Compliments to be payed to the album would include how smooth it actually is. These are live studio takes after all and the personnel's craft that they've developed from live performing is clear to hear. There are next to no mistakes made. "Idle Moments" is taken at a crawl but never loses momentum. "Jean De Fleur" follows and lifts the mood a little bit, but will descend back into the swamp of straight "head-choruses-head" Blue Note recordings that exist. Their version of John Lewis' "Django" is moody enough and would serve as a good template for someone wanting to learn the standard. My favourite track was "Nomad", which has a longer form and the soloists stretch out a little more. They're allowed the space to experiment (in the lighter sense of the word) with the harmony of Pearson's composition and build it more than they do on the other tracks.
Reading this back makes me feel like I'm being a little bit mean to Idle Moments. It is highly regarded as a jazz album and there isn't anything wrong with it. Many people, in particular those who are looking for an introduction to jazz music, could do much worse than get a copy of this album. I just like music that doesn't play it as safe more. If we aren't trying to push things (even if it's ever so slightly), then progress in the art will never be achieved. Consider Miles Davis' quintet recordings a few years earlier; albums that are similarly structured to Idle Moments, but have a rawness and feeling of exploration that is more exciting.
Coffee shops, restaurants and book shops can play Idle Moments. I could put it on at a dinner party and it would set a mood. Music does have these roles to play in society, but for me, music is at its best when it's pure human expression; individuals working together to try and translate a thought, feeling or emotion through the medium of pitch, rhythm and texture. There are many albums like Idle Moments out there; if you want something smooth and pleasant that bubbles along without poking you into alertness, then this album is definitely for you.
Next Month Something more challenging...
ECHO | Aeddan Williams