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This album is an exceptional happening on today's jazz scene, 100%, no holds barred, roll up the rug, purely romantic recording by legitimate jazz musicians. There's no hats off to bop, post bop or to modern jazz. Think Zoot Sims, Stan Getz, Ben Webster, Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young and the pre-bop Don Byas and throw in some vamp and blues and you will get a hint of the direction this session takes. Fred Griffin, an Air Force veteran, got a big break when his quartet won a nation wide talent contest. This led to appearances with Al Jarreau, Ron Carter and Buddy Collette. Intimate Strangers is his first release as a leader.
Griffin, of course, gets top billing on this album. But a significant amount of credit should go to his attending musicians, especially pianist John Rangel and even more especially, to Elizabeth Morton's singing. Her gentle, knowing rendition of "Corcovado" makes that song sound as if it is being played for the first time. Morton does the verse on "Spring Can Really Hang You up the Most" and makes one wonder why all singers of this poem put to music don't do the same. Griffin takes out his fluttering flute and, with Ron Koybayshi's trilling piano, does the accompanying honors. Griffin then does some Ben Webster like playing (before Webster became a heavy breather) on "Everything Happens to Me" and "Autumn Leaves". The latter is one of the occasions where Griffin extends and modifies the melody line, engaging in some soulful improvisation on the theme. "You Don't Know What Love Is" with Rangel's piano comping underneath and Carl Burnett's drums coming in and out would have been perfect for a film noire sound track. Dark and haunting, it will send chills down your spine with its eerie delicacy. There's fine work by the middle register trumpet of Jerry Rush on "Never Let Me Go" and "My Foolish Heart". The pace of the latter is as slow as syrup dripping from a maple tree in April.
Griffin plays in a variety of settings, small group, larger group with brass and Latin rhythm. No matter what the venue, his tenor provides a persuasive melody line on a classic standard play list. Highly recommended.
Track Listing: You Don't Know What Love Is; Never Let Me Go; Gee, Baby, Ain't I Good To You (A) (B); My Foolish Heart; Corcovado (Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars) (A) (B) (C); Autumn Leaves; Everything Happens to Me; Spring Can Really Hang You up the Most (A) (C)
Personnel: Fred Griffin - Tenor Sax/Flute; John Rangel, Ron Kobayashi (A) - Piano; Jerry Rush - Trumpet; Henry (The Skipper) Franklin (B), Jeff Littleton - Bass; Carl Burnett - Drums; Don Littleton - Congas; Elizabeth Morton (C) - Vocals
Years ago now--in Rhodesia--listening to Voice of America with Willis Conover I heard Bunk Johnson play When The Saints Go Marching In, and Billie Holiday sing Don't Explain. I knew then there was no other life for me than jazz.