The welcome return of the fire-breathing bebop tenor saxophonist is well, music to my ears. Ex-patriot saxophonists Johnny Griffin and Steve Grossman team up for an old fashioned blowing session. This date recorded for the French label, Dreyfus Records, calls to mind Griffin’s legendary recording date A Blowing Session with John Coltrane and Hank Mobley in 1957. Recorded in the days when musicians arrived in town looking for an after-hours cutting contest to prove themselves and develop their skills. Griffin, now 72, was known for his competitive playing working in the bands of Art Blakey, Kenny Clarke, Lionel Hampton, Wes Montgomery and Thelonious Monk. Steve Grossman, some twenty-years Griffin’s junior, is a familiar figure in blowing sessions. He replaced Wayne Shorter in Miles Davis’ electrified bands in the late 1960s, later, his muscular sound earned him a spot in Elvin Jones’ band.
For Griffin, Steve Grossman fills a spot occupied by Eddie ‘Lockjaw’ Davis in the 1960s. Their ‘tough-tenor’ bands fulfilled on record what listeners believed saxophonists did in those after-hour moments. They kick off the record with Grossman’s “Take The D Train,” standing toe-to-toe and trading choruses. What is remarkable about these two veterans is their lack of pretension, each hurls lines bolder and louder than the other. They maintain that power surge on Gigi Gryce’s “Nica’s Tempo” and “Taurus People.”
Fans of Griffin had a taste of his ballad work on last year’s duo record In And Out with Martial Solal. His playing there was romantic, bordering on sentimental. With Grossman, he covers “Don’t Say Good-By (Just leave),” showcasing a very mellow aspect of his composing and playing. As for Grossman, the often-heard criticism that he has no soft edge is laid to rest on tunes like “Little Pugie.” His lyricism, while still roughed up by his sound (think of Jackie McLean), is honest and fulfilling. Listening to his recordings of the past few years, you sense he is fulfilling the promise of his music that Miles Davis recognized in 1969. There are plenty of welcome hard-bop memories to be found here. For Griffin and Grossman, the intellectual aspects of jazz take a back seat to the visceral.