Grant Green's star rose after his signing to Blue Note in 1960, though he appeared as a sideman on several releases during the 1950s. These previously unissued live recordings, made in 1959 and 1960 at the Holy Barbarian Coffee House in St. Louis, document some of his earliest work. Although the music wasn't taped professionally, the sound is quite good, with several extended performances. The St. Louis native is joined by tenor saxophonist Bob Graf (a former Woody Herman sideman who had returned to his hometown), the somewhat obscure organist Sam Lazar, and drummer Chauncey Williams, though none of the three have very large discographies. Graf's robust solo in the midtempo rendition of the standard "There Will Never Be Another You" is an immediate high point for him, though it is Green's clean, spacious solo that leaves a lasting impression, blending bop and a bluesy air, even humorously quoting from Bizet's opera Carmen. Graf's big tone is on display in the quartet's treatment of "Groovin' High" as he masters some tricky runs, followed by Green's intricate, bluesy solo. Graf doesn't try to clone John Coltrane in the band's take of "Blue Train," taking a lighter approach and detouring into a lighter setting, while Lazar's loud bursts back yet another fine Green solo, though the amateur poetry read over the ending of the song by Pete Simpson quickly grows tedious. Liner note author Bob Blumenthal discusses the confusion over the titles to three original tracks in great detail. "The Holy Barbarian Blues" is a rollicking uptempo blues, while "Caramu (Blue Caribou)" has a funky swagger. Graf dives headfirst into Lazar's "Deep" with some of his grittiest playing, while Green's elaborate bop lines foreshadow the recognition he would begin to achieve within a few short years. Like many Uptown releases, much care has been given to creating a booklet with detailed period photographs, newspaper clippings, and historical background about the long-shuttered club. This historic find should have great appeal to fans of Grant Green.
AllMusic Review by Ken Dryden