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Johnny Griffin: Live at Ronnie Scott's

Edward Blanco By

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Once known as the "fastest tenor in the west" for executing fast notes with ease, saxophonist Johnny Griffin leaves one last recording to remember him by with Live At Ronnie Scott's. The album documents a two-night engagement in May 2008, at the legendary London jazz club, to celebrate the artist's eightieth birthday, and features a host of jazz luminaries, all there to pay tribute to a man known as "The Little Giant" of the tenor saxophone.

Griffin, who passed away in France in 2008, where he had lived for the past 24 years, was a fixture on the European jazz scene. Drummer Billy Cobham and trumpeter Roy Hargrove also spend a good deal of time in Europe, and join Griffin for this last session, along with bassist Reggie Johnson, a transplanted American who currently lives in Switzerland, and British pianists David Newton and James Pearson.

The session opens up with a particularly lively rendition of the Lester Young tribute, "Lester Leaps In," with Hargrove and Cobham both enjoying solo moments as Griffin tees off in his usual speedy style. On the almost thirteen-minute follow-up, "When We Were One," the tempo slows to a crawl, as both horn men present a bit of tenderness, their performances playing off each other with an engaging, beautiful melody. Newton is simply superb here, with a warm solo roundly appreciated by the supportive audience. "Mentor" is the other ballad piece, featuring Hargrove taking a decidedly soft approach, followed by another piano embrace from Newton.

Pianist Paul Kuhn makes a guest appearance on the jazz standard "How Deep Is The Ocean," sadly delivering a lackluster vocal performance on a piece where neither Griffin nor Hargrove are featured. Newton and Griffin combine for some tasteful soloing on "The JAMFS Are Coming," which also features Johnson—inexplicably excluded from the personnel listing on the CD tray card—with some of his best bass lines.

Griffin's aptly titled "Hot Sake" delivers a dozen minutes of fire, with successive sweltering heatwaves coming from Hargrove, Newton, Johnson and Cobham. Griffin could not have known that Live At Ronnie Scott's would turn out to be his swan song; as such, this belated birthday bash is, in essence, a parting birthday gift from Johnny to his fans.

Track Listing: Lester Leaps In; When We Were One; The Blues Walk; Mentor; How Deep Is The Ocean; The JAMFS Are Coming; Hot Sake.

Personnel: Johnny Griffin: tenor saxophone; Roy Hargrove: trumpet, flugelhorn; James Pearson: piano (1); David Newton: piano (2-4, 6, 7); Billy Cobham: drums; Reggie Johnson: bass; Paul Kuhn: piano, vocals (5).

Title: Live At Ronnie Scott's | Year Released: 2010 | Record Label: In + Out Records

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