Feelin' the Spirit
The Spirit Moves
Dig deep enough into the past lives of jazz musicians, and somewhere along the way you'll arrive at a church. Often that dimension is dormant, but every now and then the influence of long-ago Sunday mornings emerges, as happens on the charged Feelin' the Spirit.
The guitarist Grant Green, one of the most important soul-jazz bandleaders of the 1960s, began his professional career at thirteen, accompanying choirs at his St. Louis church. Although he quickly moved on to blues and jazz (and had the typical jazzman battles with addiction), he never lost the zealousness or the sense of unshakable optimism that underpins spirituals and other religious music. In his hands, even a greasy soul mambo or a sullen blues could take on the characteristics of prayer.
During a prolific period of recording in 1962, Green put together a Latin-themed album, then a country set, and then convinced Blue Note to let him do this album of spirituals—those descended-through-generations expressions of pain, like "Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen," that have roots in slave culture, the blues, and work songs. Green got young Herbie Hancock to play piano, a crucial choice: Throughout Feelin' the Spirit, the two sustain a reverent running discussion, trading ad-libs that are nearly as memorable and thoughtfully considered as the original themes. They're members of the congregation who, having just heard a life-changing sermon, are still mulling its ramifications. Needless to say, these are ideal conditions for the ever-elusive spirit to move freely around the room.
Released: 1962, Blue Note
Key Tracks: "Go Down Moses," "Joshua Fit de Battle of Jericho"
Catalog Choice: Born to Be Blue; Idle Moments
Next Stop: George Benson: It's Uptown
After That: Wynton Marsalis: In This House, On This Morning
Book Pages: 324–325