Archive for the Johnny GRIFFIN Category

Johnny GRIFFIN & Eddie Lockjaw DAVIS Quintet – Tough Tenor Favorites 1961

Posted in Eddie "Lockjaw" DAVIS, JAZZ, Johnny GRIFFIN on November 29, 2010 by whoisthemonk

Johnny GRIFFIN & Eddie Lockjaw DAVIS Quintet  – Tough Tenor Favorites 1961
1995 Issue


If one feels their music getting a bit stale, perhaps a little too predictable, then they have a couple choices. They can dig back into their roots to reconnect with the music they love, or they can go head to head with a counterpoint in an effort to create sparks. Johnny Griffin and Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis choose the latter course in Tough Tenors, turning a half-dozen pieces into an enticing mix of edgy solos and synchronized ensemble playing. The fun stuff here bops along at a giddy pace, letting Griffin and Davis trade their tough leads, while pianist Junior Mance offers a slight pause with his swift keyboarding. Lester Young’s “Tickle Toe” kicks off the affair with aplomb, and Davis/Griffin’s “Twins” provides plenty of room for explosive solo work. The album’s center rests with the nine-minute take on Bennie Green’s “Flunky Flute,” a spontaneous piece that eventually — because of the players’ intensity — becomes an endurance test. The medium tempo of “Soft Winds” qualifies as a ballad for these guys, and the mellow groove makes it an easygoing closer. Bassist Larry Gales and drummer Ben Riley also do a fine job of keeping this boisterous crew on the ground. Tough Tenors is one of the many amazing jazz recordings from 1960, and will please saxophone fans, Davis/Griffin fans, and anyone who enjoys classic hard bop. By Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr. AMG.
As the 1960s came into focus, Chicago tenor saxophonist Johnny Griffin and his New York counterpart, Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, hooked up for a series of tenor battle albums that were easily a cut above most such recordings. For one thing, both saxophonists were rock solid bop players who were at the peak of their powers. For another, the two tenor men were very compatible in their playing styles and had a lot of mutual respect.
Davis began his career in the 1940s and always maintained some of the swing influence of his forbears Ben Webster and Coleman Hawkins. Davis played in big bands for much of his early career, working with Count Basie in the early fifties before pairing successfully with organist Shirley Scott prior to getting together with Griffin. Griffin was a bop layer from the get go, having worked with Art Blakey and Thelonious Monk as well as leading his own groups throughout his long career. Of course, Griffin could also turn a ballad out nicely, as heard on “Imagination,” a track from Tough Tenors that exclusively features Johnny.
Tough Tenors is a November, 1960, date that features pianist Junior Mance, bassist Larry Gales, and drummer Ben Riley. The opener, “Tickle Toe” is a hard-driving, fast swing number penned by Lester Young and done up by the Basie Band. Davis breaks out with the first solo (he actually solos first on every number with the exception of “Imagination”), showing that he’s up for an energetic blowing session. Griffin’s solo is typically well put together and features his trademark sound. Mance follows with a bluesy, solo that demonstrates he’s not about to be left behind by the tenor giants. The two tenors trade fours to bring the number to a rousing close. After hearing this, no listener will doubt that any performance by these two tenor titans is going to be a spectacular one.
In the original liner notes, Lockjaw was quoted as saying that the two musicians “Are trying to bring back older tunes with a different flavor…tunes with more substance and feeling to them, that get in that good groove.” Tough Tenors has a number of examples of this, including Buddy Johnson’s “Save Your Love For Me” and the Fletcher Henderson tune “Soft Winds,” well known as a Benny Goodman vehicle. Mance offers some gritty hard-bop blues commentary on “Soft Winds” that is especially welcome. Griffin and Davis offer an original, “Twins” and a cover of Bennie Green’s “Funky Fluke” as high speed numbers that demonstrate clearly the duo’s bop heritage. With “Tickle Toe” and the ballad “Imagination” to round out the program, Tough Tenors delivers an unbeatable program of music delivered by two of the greatest jazz tenors of all time with a hot rhythm section.
In May of 1962, Davis and Griffin again went into the studio. Though they had become popular as a duo, they didn’t want to be stereotyped as ‘tenor battle’ players, so they decided to perform separately, alternating as leader on the various tracks. In addition, they decided to perform all ballads (with the exception of the Griffin-penned title track, a mid-tempo swing number). For whatever reason, the project never came to fruition. A master session disc wasn’t put together until 1966, but it was not released, languishing in the vaults for some forty years before its recent release.
The rhythm section on this date is different than on Tough Tenors. Horace Parlan, a pianist with an unusual style, alternated at the piano chair for the Griffin-Davis quintet with Junior Mance. On this date he plays piano on the Griffin tracks and celeste on the Davis tracks. Bassist Buddy Catlett was originally a saxophonist himself before switching to bass in the fifties; he amassed a large number of small group recording dates on his new instrument. Drummer Arthur Taylor was a disciple of Kenny Clarke, the original bebop drummer.
Davis demonstrates his sensitive side on “Midnight Sun” and “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered,” numbers on which his tenor sax is front and center the entire time, with no features for any of the rhythm players. He shows here that, like other tenor ‘honkers’ including Illinois Jacquet, he knew what to do with a smoky ballad when the time was right. Not to be outdone, Griffin positively shines on “Willow Weep for Me” and “She’s Funny That Way” as well as Ellington’s perennial favorite, “Sophisticated Lady.” Listeners not familiar with the breadth of Griffin’s work will see clearly why he’s considered one of the best tenor saxophonists around, the heir to Dexter Gordon’s title.
Some may consider this date inferior to the duo’s other, more hard-driving recordings, but it definitely fills in a missing link by showing both players’ balladic side. Ultimately, Pieces is an incredibly enjoyable tenor recording that belongs in the library of anyone who loves the instrument or either of these two incredibly gifted musicians.
Davis passed away in 1986, but Griffin, who moved to Europe in the 1970s, continues to perform and record at a pace many younger jazz musicians would be hard pressed to keep up with. In 1978 he cut his first album in a U.S. studio in some 15 years, Return of the Griffin. A day later he was back the studio recording what would become the album Bush Dance. That album, released here along with the album Call It Whachawana, is a masterstroke that demonstrates just how powerful a player Griffin still was (and still is, by the way) in 1978.
The album’s opener, “A Night In Tunisia,” is treated to a relaxed, meandering intro based on Afro-Cuban rhythms supplied by drummer Albert “Tootie” Heath and percussionist Kenneth Nash, along with bassist Sam Jones. Griffin provides some vocal cries and chants as well. Finally the piece’s familiar bass line come into focus and Griffin presents the melody with his familiar robust tenor sound. At the bridge between the theme and the solos the arrangement kicks into a high-speed bopfest, with pianist Cedar Walton, guitarist George Freeman, and Griffin all kicking into high gear for powerful solos. Clocking in at seventeen minutes, this is probably the best “Nigh In Tunisia” committed to recording since Art Blakey’s definitive version. Jones takes the leadoff solo on the danceable “Bush Dance” to great effect. He’s followed by Walton, who demonstrates his typical ability to construct a beautiful solo, before Griffin charges in, offering his hard-edged tone and phenomenal chops. “The Jamf’s are Coming” is a nice mid-tempo blues workout that allows for plenty of blowing all around.
The four tracks that comprise the album Call It Whatchawana feature a rhythm section of pianist Mulgrew Miller, bassist Curtis Lundy, and drummer Kenny Washington. All of these musicians are younger than Griffin, of course, but they earn their appearance here with solid playing. Miller manages to evoke Griffin’s old boss Monk on “I Mean You,” but still sounds like himself. This was the first recording to feature Griffin’s 1983 band, all of whom would go on to become major musicians on their instruments. Miller in particular is an impressive pianist, and one can certainly here him starting to take flight on this date. The group also does a nice version of “Lover Man” on which one can hear not only the influence of Ben Webster, but also of Charlie Parker. The date concludes with two Griffin originals: the bluesy “Call It Whachawana” and the lyrical “A Waltz With Sweetie.” The reissued Bush Dance is essentially a twofer that Griffin enthusiasts will enjoy thoroughly. It’s among the saxophonist’s very best work, along with Return of the Griffin.
Johnny Griffin- (Tenor Sax);
Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis- (Tenor Sax);
Eddie Griffin- (Tenor Sax);
Junior Mance- (Piano);
Ben Riley- (Drums).
01. Bahia  5:53
02. Blue Lou  4:41
03. How Am I to Know?  4:54
04. Ow!  4:20
05. I Wished on the Moon  6:39
06. Tin Tin Deo  5:42
07. From This Moment On 6:02

Continue reading