Grits, Beans and Greens: The Lost Fontana Studio Sessions 1969 is truly a "lost" album that's a jazz holy grail on par with Tubby Hayes' 1968 albums Mexican Green and 100% Proof. Cut with a smoking new band with whom he was trying to re-establish himself as a viable musician after two years of health problems, arrests, and other mishaps, this amounts to his last great album. The session reels containing it sat in boxes until 2014 when Decca/Universal hired high-end vinyl specialists Gearbox Studios to master the sessions for the first time and deliver new lacquers. While the album was assembled from multiple takes, Hayes' diary designated the final lineup's keepers.
Hayes was a consummate jazz musician -- arguably the greatest of 20th century England. His band here -- Spike Wells on drums, pianist Mike Pyne, and bassist Ron Mathewson -- roars through five mid-length to long tunes in sessions that were as loose as they were swinging. Opener "For Members Only" is counted off by Hayes and set into motion by Wells. After a couple of different "endings" in the intro, the jam kicks into gear with Hayes in muscular form, his solo fleet, wildly imaginative, and harmonically astonishing as it encompasses his own developmental ideas and fascinations with the jazz vanguard and blues-inspired language. Wells, who made his recorded debut here, swings like mad but keeps Mathewson and his meaty yet lofty ideas grounded, while Pyne delivers fat comps, vamps, and a tight solo. "Rumpus" is a monument to high musicality. This version is a first take, and its knotty construction crisscrosses the intricate athleticism of bop with its knotty head joined to the more physically demanding modal hard bop of John Coltrane during the Atlantic period. Hayes' solo is dazzling in its complexity and feeling, with the rhythm section carving out space for him to explore. The title cut is a finger-popping hard bop groover; it offers dexterous, even competitive interplay between Hayes and Mathewson. A pair of covers round out the set. The first is a gorgeous, deeply felt version of Duke Pearson's immortal ballad "You Know That I Care," in which Hayes delivers both the lushness and deep emotion that makes fools of critics who claimed he was all flash and no feeling. The sprightly articulation of the Latin-ized rhythmic invention in "Where Am I Going?" by Cy Coleman closes the set as Wells pushes the band into a humid groove while Hayes and Mathewson communicate directly. Pyne moves from sharp montunos to elegant, even romantic post-bop swing as Hayes matches cadenzas with short phrases and seamless arpeggios. The sound is pristine; it that matches the soulfulness and technical proficiency of the playing, and Hayes' biographer Simon Spilett penned the copious liner notes. Grits, Beans and Greens: The Lost Fontana Studio Sessions 1969 presents itself as a bona fide jazz holy grail. Hopefully, along with the documentary Tubby Hayes: A Man in a Hurry, it will spark a true critical and popular reappraisal of Hayes' work.