For the better part of four decades, Northern Europe has been something of a second home to Johnny Griffin. Following the lead of his peers, the saxophonist immigrated to Paris in the early '60s and later moved to the Netherlands in the early '70s. The life of the expatriate jazz musician has been his preferred lot ever since. For these reasons and for the simple love of the music, this pairing with a Danish quartet makes perfect sense. Griff is one of the elder veterans of that one time jazz staple, the cutting contest, and has the scars to prove it. His quoted comments in the disc’s notes surprisingly reveal his distaste for the once-popular custom. Sharing the frontline with Thilo, these combative memories are relegated to the past and the pair seeks instead to achieve a relationship akin to the one Griff shared with his longtime friend and band mate Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis. Any sparring is done with good humor and in support the momentum of the pieces, all of which are longstanding tried and true blowing vehicles. Griff may rank as the resident living legend, but Thilo largely holds his own.
“Just Friends” kicks things off in fine roughshod fettle with both tenors galloping at full speed before Thilo takes the lead and devours a long string of choruses. Around him Clausen comps brightly while Vinding speed walks on fat amplified strings and Riel’s sticks work his skins into a frothy lather. Griffin sidles up on heels the heels of his partner, annexing his share of improvised stanzas at a slightly less boisterous stride and quoting freely from other melodies along the way. Clausen’s ivories take the third solo spot and stretch out with rhapsodic flourishes. Soon after Riel’s drums engage in a series of agile breaks with the phrase-trading horns and the inevitable end arrives. “All the Things You Are,” a long-time favorite of Griff’s, bounces along on Vinding’s corpulent bass line. Thilo is again first out of the gate and a lithesome statement from Caulsen separates his loquacious sortie from Griff’s more measured and smoothly melodic jaunt through the changes. Rounding the tune out with another row of volleys with Riel the horns again engage in spirited chases.
The band checks their rambunctious urges at the stage side for the slow romance of Griff’s own “When We Were Young.” Mid-piece, a breathtaking unaccompanied section unfolds from the composer’s horn in warmly radiating waves, creating a lingering mood that is easily the high mark of the entire disc. Together the shift in tempo and mood show a welcome versatility and set a beguiling stage for the fireworks of the follow-up. As one of the signature vessels for tandem tenor tirades, the old Ammons/Stitt warhorse “Blues Up and Down” seems a must for this multi-national duo. Both men rise to the occasion and do the original duo proud, locking horns in a playful test of wits, lured on to ever increasing improvisatory heights by their ever-attentive rhythm mates. The last few years have marked a gradual ebb in Griff’s recording frequency, making this mid-Nineties slice of his oeuvre all the sweeter. During this summer date proof of the venerable saxophonist’s artistry was alive in the air for all hear.
Stunt on the web: http://www.sundance.dk
Personnel: Johnny Griffin- tenor saxophone; Jesper Thilo- tenor saxophone; Thomas Clausen-
piano; Mads Vinding- bass; Alex Reil- drums. Recorded: July 17, 1996.