Street of Dreams, guitarist Grant Green’s masterpiece, could broadly be considered an instrumental version of the great black pop tradition of the ’50s and ’60s. It’s also a take on the corner bar organ trios that were popular during the same time period. But those descriptions slight it: Street of Dreams is also a cultural signifier, much like both Madlib’s The Beat Konducta Vol. 1 & 2 Movies Scenes or Marvin Gaye’s I Want You. All three albums use invocations of time/place memory to provoke deeply emotional responses.
Green was able, better than anyone else in jazz, to find a three- or four-note phrase that could be superimposed over the structure of whatever tune he was playing, and then use those notes as a fulcrum to evoke existential meaning. If that sounds overblown, consider this: Pop tunes speak directly to the hearts of millions of people using nothing more than hooks. Play the hook, and you’ve evoked thousands of cultural resonances. Green had a genius for finding the hidden improvisational hooks embedded in the standards he played. He had only to find the right material and to use the right musicians. On Street of Dreams, he did this more tellingly than any other time in his career. By adding the vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson to the standard organ trio (organ, guitar, drums) format, he introduced a floating, dreamlike element that elevated the music to that of collective memory. In choosing Larry Young and Elvin Jones, Green found an organist and drummer who were almost telepathically wired into what he was doing. The album is short, consisting of only four tunes. There’s a similarity between the songs; as sentimental and wistful as each is, Green’s blues inflections, anchored down by Jones’s tough-as-iron pulse, create a solid core.
The tunes are of a piece, and the album is best heard whole. “I Wish You Love” is a Latin-tinged mid-tempo opener, with Jones’s tonic drums driving Green forward as Young plays soothing chords and Hutcherson adds subtle obbligato figures. Once the band has reached a steady simmer, the guitarist finds his key phrase, and everything locks together. You don’t want the tune to ever stop, until the 5/4 vamp of “Lazy Afternoon” takes its place. And then you don’t want that to ever stop. This is dream material; all four players locked in a slow dance differentiated only by whoever happens to be soloing: first Green in a careful blues, and Hutcherson, whose blues seems more optimistic. Back to the head, and out. Green’s note placement in the theme to the title track is heartbreaking in its beauty. Young backdrops him like a warm blanket, and Elvin percolates behind them, never intruding. Young was once called “the John Coltrane of the organ.” His solo here shows why.
Finally, we have “Somewhere in the Night,” a striking theme with subtly shifting chord changes that allow for some fascinating key changes. Did anyone ever play a more addictive swing than Elvin Jones does here? In turn Green, Hutcherson, and Young fall under it, all three relaxed and having a ball with the changes, totally immersed in one vibe, that vibe emerging from a shared history, and radiating outward as communal experience to anyone fortunate enough to be listening.