Ain't It Funky Now

One of the oft-overlooked facets of funk is the need to "keep it in the pocket." James Brown (the JB's for that matter) really had this down - just holding a groove solid behind a soloist. Not getting louder or more dense as the solo builds. Not following every little ebb and flow. A lot of classic hard bop (even early bebop) rolls this way too - the rhythm section just hunkers down, cookin' along, leaving the bulk of the embellishments and dynamic/density variations to the soloist and the drummers' fills. And I'll tell you: As a soloist, this can be a really liberating situation, and also, one that's not as common as one might expect. Many sidemen feel the need to (over)react to everything the soloist does - so much so, that they're practically soling themselves. Chalk it up to misinterpretation of the Coltrane quartet, Ornette, free jazz, and collateral damage from the Berklee grad pyrotechnics and the "jam band" mentalities - everyone blowing all their chops all at once, all the time.

On 1970's "Green is Beautiful" Grant and company provide a study in how not to succumb to this unfunky fate of being "out of the pocket." The organist Emmanuel Riggins hangs tenaciously on the vamp, along with Jimmy Lewis keepin' it on the one with the electric bass. Percussionists Candido Camero and Richie "Pablo" Landrum sit tight in the groove as well - it's really only drummer Idris Muhammad that steps it out a bit withe soloists. Muhammad's playing really kicks it - striking me at times as an Elvin Jones type of approach to funk - visceral, raw and undeniably propulsive. Even under Blue Mitchell, Claude Bartee and Riggins' solos, Grant himself schools us on how to hold it down, sticking to a percussive octave and chordal pattern to punctuate the groove.

Green's soloing here is of course the standout here. His blues-inflected riffing, gradually developing a phrase or motif as a theme is really in fine form. He never needs to resort to any dazzling runs or complex harmonic machinations to maintain interest - instead Grant just patiently spins out phrase after phrase, developing his ideas with what seems like an inexorable logic and economy. Moreover, his timing, accents and placements keep it funky. While he doesn't use space nearly as much, his time evokes Miles in the sense of dropping the note (or phrase) right where it needs to land. Perhaps the essence of funk, right there.

Ain't It Funky Now
Grant Green - Green Is Beautiful (Blue Note BST 84342)
January 30, 1970