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Live From New York

April 2005

By Published: April 2, 2005

Johnny Griffin blew into New York for two nights at the Blue Note (Mar. 15th-16th) and blew away adoring audiences with four sets of classic tenor saxophone. The little giant began the final set of the brief engagement with "Night In Tunisia", honking and screaming on the introductory vamp, blowing boppishly through the melody and then soloing superbly, ably assisted by pianist Michael Weiss, bassist John Webber and drummer Kenny Washington. After solos by Weiss and Washington the saxophonist returned for an unaccompanied section before ending on a powerful downbeat. For the second number, the leader counted off a medium-slow rendition of "Good Bait", sounding soft and fluid over Webber's walking bass. Weiss came out of his tasteful comping with a swinging solo that had Griffin clapping ecstatically. Webber and Washington followed with strong statements of their own, before the tenorist came back sounding pleasantly gruff, ending in the deep bottom of his horn. He followed with an up-tempo outing on "Bright Mississippi" on which he utilized "Scrapple From The Apple" chord changes on chorus upon chorus of creative improvising. A bluesy reading of "Please Send Me Someone To Love", spotlighting the leader's lyricism, was followed by a bopping "Lester Leaps In" showcasing his speed. The set ended beautifully with "Body and Soul".

The SF Jazz Collective journeyed east to make its first out-of-state appearance at Rose Hall on March 25. The octet, featuring artistic director, Joshua Redman with trumpeter Nicholas Payton, trombonist Isaac Smith, alto saxophonist Miguel Zenon, vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson, pianist Renee Rosnes, bassist Matt Penman and drummer Eric Harland performed commissioned original works, as well as compositions by John Coltrane arranged by Gil Goldstein. The concert began dramatically with Hutcherson's solitary vibes commencing a musical conversation with Rosnes' piano, soon to be joined by Penman and Harland in a collective vamp that was answered by the horn section on Zenon's complex "Two and Two". Zenon soloed first, followed by Redman's brooding tenor as the ensemble provided an increasingly intense background. Hutcherson's vibes brought out the contrasting mechanistic and lyrical characters of the piece before it ended with surprising abruptness.

The band followed with an arrangement of Trane's "Moment's Notice" that featured a swinging Payton and fleet Rosnes, who moved from brash comping behind the trumpeter into the spotlight, with an amazing two-handed solo that would have had a club audience out of its seats screaming. The mood calmed with a beautiful rendition of "Naima" featuring Hutcherson vibes surrounded by the lush obligatti of the four horns. A Penman piece began with the composer's deep bass and featured Smith's dark trombone and Hutcherson's marimba. Payton's "Scrambled Eggs", based on Chick Corea's "Humpty Dumpty", featured the composer's bluesy trumpet emerging from the stop and go unison saxophones of the horn section. The first part of the concert concluded with Coltrane's "Africa", a tour de force feature for Redman's tenor. The second half continued in the same spirit with Redman's joyous "Half Full", arrangements of Coltrane's "Crescent and "26-2", followed by Hutcherson's moving ballad "Song For Peggy" and ending splendidly with Harland's "Development".

~ Russ Musto

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