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Jaws and Griff made for a contrasting match on the bandstand, as colorful as their respective sobriquets. The former's gruff and garrulous tone found purchase through often clipped and cantankerous phrasings, while the later favored a smoother sound and jackrabbit swiftness. Together they were one of the most successful tenor teams on the scene, a pair whose Populist leanings never omitted the sure-fire swing and drive certain to bring smiles to countless audience countenances. Fortunately the two also found ample instances to record and their string of dates for the Prestige label captured many of the rampant thrills of their concert engagements.
This recent reissue is no exception, a studio session at Rudy Van Gelder’s Englewood Cliffs enclave with the duo’s regular rhythm section in tow. Generously tacked onto the original LP is a ripping rendition of the Charlie Parker classic “Billie’s Bounce,” rescued from the quintet’s Minton’s Playhouse engagement (for much more from this indispensable date check out). After a brisk unison head with his horn mate on the opening burner “What’s Happening,” Jaws wastes no time in unhinging his massive chops and taking hungry bites of the melody. A short gush of coruscating choruses pours forth before Simmons lightly dancing keys funnel some of the intensity into calmer straights. Griffin’s solo paves the way for Jaws’ return, while a chase section of quickstep fours and eights closes the tune out in fine fashion. Even on the slower smolder of the Simmons’ penned “Abundance” the power of the horns proves a force to be reckoned with. An opening section of clever harmonic interplay dissolves into individual statements, but this track and others in the set point to an important distinction on this disc. Instead of taking the usual path of strict head solos trajectories, Jaws and Griff regularly opt for segments of creative counterpoint. It’s a strategy that pays off handsomely by demonstrating their heightened communication and ingenuity in gleaning the most musical meat from a tune. The Simmons-led rhythm unit holds down their end of the bargain exceedingly well, but a price is paid in the precious little solo space afforded Sproles and Riley. Any fan of passionately rendered, hard swinging, bop-born jazz should consider the purchase of this disc a must.
As a kid, my mom told me I'd like jazz. I thought she was nuts. Then I went to hear Cannonball Adderley (with Nat Adderley, George Duke, Walter Booker, Roy McCurdy and Airto) and everything changed. Yeah, mom knows best.