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Alive! (1970)

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Idris Muhammad

Alive! is the hardest funk LP Grant Green recorded during the later phase of his career, capturing a storming gig at Newark's Cliché Lounge. The sweaty club atmosphere adds something to the music that's difficult to pin down, yet unmistakably present -- a certain organic quality that isn't as noticeable on Green's studio albums of the time. Moreover, Green sounds more like the captain of his ship, with greater assurance in his musical direction and more strut on the R&B material. Drummer Idris Muhammad is a monster in this live setting, and he helps push Green (plus the rest of the band, which includes organist Ronnie Foster) even farther with his kinetic, continually evolving funk rhythms. That's especially true on the swaggering Kool & the Gang cover "Let the Music Take Your Mind," but Don Covay's "Sookie, Sookie" grooves almost as powerfully. What's most surprising about the set, though, is that Green finds ways to work in bits of the modal style he had been pursuing in the mid-'60s on slower pieces like the Earl Neal Creque ballad "Time to Remember" and "Down Here on the Ground," which was later sampled by jazz-rap pioneers A Tribe Called Quest. Green's continued interest in modal jazz is reinforced on the CD reissue, which contains a spacy, grooving cover of Herbie Hancock's classic "Maiden Voyage" as a bonus track (the other two are contemporary R&B covers "Hey, Western Union Man" and "It's Your Thing"). Still, this is the most convincing and consistent Green had been as a funkster and, while nearly all of his albums from the early '70s feature at least some worthwhile material for acid jazz and beat-sampling junkies, Alive! is probably the best place to start. ~ Steve Huey