Johnny Griffin & Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis: Tough Tenors (2003)
What more can be said about the grandiloquent tradition of two tenor conclaves in jazz? The lineage is wide, multifarious and deep, wrangling in such names as Young and Evans, Ammons and Stitt, Sims and Cohen, Clay and Newman, Anderson and Jordan, Freeman and Freeman, along with others too numerous to list. Like many of the previously mentioned pairings, Jaws and Griff shared an amicable rapport and took their partnership as joint leaders seriously. So much so that their quintet’s recordings divide fairly evenly between their two discographies. Davis’s surname sometimes leads the charge while Griffin has the honors on other occasions.
On this recent reissue, their studio debut together, Griff comes first on the marquee and is consequently better served by the somewhat off-kilter session engineering. Jaws’ gruff, whinnying phrases receive consolation in the form of first crack in the solo order on all cuts save “Imagination,” a ravishing ballad feature for Griffin alone. Griff’s fleeter, note-crammed runs may be more prominent sonically speaking, but his comrade in arms drives the hard swinging point home in equal measure.
An outspoken skeptic of the avant-garde, Davis probably didn’t recognize the irony of his stance in light of his totally idiosyncratic sound on his horn. His opening chain of choruses on “Tickle Toe” turns from supple to emphatic riding out the rising crest of Riley’s cymbals and the sprinting speed of Gales’ bass line. Griff follows close on Jaws’ heels, voicing his own share of fast clip figures and then it’s Mance’s turn for an impressive show of right hand dexterity. A string of exchanges ensues between the tenors, which quickly takes on the exhilarating traits of a full-blown chase.
“Save Your Love for Me” mixes bluesy bravado with smooth sliding delivery and playful punctuations. Once again the horns seem to anticipate each other’s moves and the amount of amicable rapport on display is downright moving. Later meetings between the two tenors would tend to emphasize individual solo space of active interplay and it’s gratifying to hear them in a more talkative mood at this early stage of their partnership. Gales takes a beautifully gestured solo prior to Griff’s own workout that also points to the collective nature of the unit, a dynamic that would also diminish as the quintet shot to stardom in the coming months.
“Funky Fluke,” the longest cut of the date at just over nine minutes, keeps the crackling tempo moving and the horns light off their usual fireworks on the blues-heavy changes that are ripe for riffing. The differences between the joint leaders are especially striking on this tune as Griff glides fast and felicitous in contrast to Jaws’ visceral, rough-hewn dialect.
As history would have it, this would be the first of many sessions pairing The Little Giant with the Gruff Old Man. Over the ensuing years, the quality in abundance here would often be equaled at subsequent meetings, but only rarely surpassed.
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Track Listing: Tickle Toe/ Save Your Love For Me/ Twins/ Funky Fluke/ Imagination/ Soft Winds.
Personnel: Johnny Griffin- tenor saxophone; Eddie