Even though Johnny Griffin has steadfastly chosen to remain in Europe since 1963, his recorded output remains steady and, as always, invigorating, thanks to Dreyfus Jazz. Fast on the heels of Griffin's Grammy-nominated collaboration with piano great Martial Solal, Griffin once again is paired with an interesting counterpart, this time fellow tenor saxman Steve Grossman. Even though he grew up and was educated in the United States, Grossman now is resident of Europe as well.
Last year, Griffin journeyed from Holland to join Grossman in Paris for a blowing session of two aggressive saxophonists revealing their common hard bop style. Even though 17-year-old Grossman replaced Wayne Shorter in Miles Davis' group after Bitches Brew
was recorded, nary a trace of trademark fusion vocabulary emerges on Johnny Griffin & Steve Grossman Quintet.
The first tune, Grossman's "Take The D Train," (referring, I suppose to the key signature) embarks on a charging, honking and interactive bop excusion more akin to Blakey than Ellington. Trading choruses, the two make clear the concept for the CD-that being a like-minded colloquy in a spirit of fun.
Most of the tunes are those written by the tenor men. One exception is pianist Michael Weiss' "Power Station," which energizes the group with its implicit 12/8 swing underpinning the rocking first two choruses. Another exception is the Johnny Mercer ballad, "This Time The Dream's On Me," which Griffin and Grossman turn into a loosely reined gallop. And there's Gigi Gryce's "Nica's Tempo," perfect for two-horned statement of the theme with its odd intervals and chromatically descending composition.
Otherwise, Griffin and Grossman enjoy presenting their own tunes, wittily named and persuasively performed. Renowned for his untouchably rapid technique, Griffin slows down on Johnny Griffin & Steve Grossman Quintet
to distill the essence of the tunes, such as his unhurried and suave tone on his "Don't Say Good-By (Just Leave)." The same thing happens on Grossman's "Little Pugie," as both tenor players wring meaning out of a gem of a tune. One is reminded of the way that other tenor masters like Ben Webster or Coleman Hawkins have left indelible stamps on some of their recordings by interjecting their personalities into the music.
Grossman's "Taurus People" weaves the unison horn lines through twists and accents in a medium tempo to allow individual expression through soloing. In fact, the similarity between Griffin's and Grossman's styles can't be missed.
The match-up makes perfect sense. Johnny Griffin & Steve Grossman Quintet
leaves us with a tenor sax collaboration that reminds us of the instrument's potential for greatness and to-the-heart communication.