This set compiles the first three albums Grant recorded with pianist Sonny Clark before the band was expanded to a quintet later in 1962. Interestingly, none of these albums were released until 1980 (in Japan) which, given the quality of the music, it’s really hard to understand.
Chronologically first we have Gooden’s Corner, recorded in late 1961, with both Nigeria and Oleo from January of 1962. (Again, all released in 1980, in Japan.) But the set isn’t presented quite like that, as Nigeria leads off the collection with the other two following chronologically.
Nigeria is outstanding stuff, despite being full of standards, and makes me rethink everything I’ve previous thought about Green vs. Montgomery. This band’s version of “It Ain’t Necessarily So” is particularly great and I want to say is the definitive version (I’ve heard). (Green is practically Youngian on it.) It’s shocking to me that this music wasn’t deemed important enough to release at the time. I can’t really figure out why. I’m guessing contract disputes or obscure marketing reasons. This is really great mainstream guitar jazz.
Gooden’s Corner treads pretty familiar territory as well. But there are unique enough takes on this to make it worthwhile. Green’s playing is consistently inventive (for the time) but perhaps Clark is even more impressive with his off-beat support. And I agree that the sequencing on this set is a little smarter than on Nigeria. Had these albums been released at the time, I would be tempted to rate this highest since it was first, but I have a hard time figuring out which of these two I like better.
Oleo is probably the weakest of the three Sonny Clark quartet albums, but it’s still pretty great. At first I was tempted to dislike their version of “My Favorite Things” because it wasn’t Coltrane, but I got over that. Green makes it his own. Green also contributes a tune this time (imagine!) and it is one of the highlights.
On the whole, this is some pretty wonderful mainstream guitar jazz and it continues to boggle my mind that this wasn’t deemed releasable at the time. This is nearly essential stuff if it’s your thing, and for a Montgomery fan like me, it really made me re-think Green.