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The early '60s was a golden age for tenor tandems. Towering team-ups like Gene Ammons and Sonny Stitt, Zoot Sims and Al Cohn, and Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis and Johnny Griffin were illustrative of the Zeitgeist. Such a simple formula, joining the talents of two titans on that most popular of jazz horns, but it's one that consistently yielded both artistic and financial profit. For a time the partnership of Davis and Griffin stood at the front of the pack.
The 1962 recording Pisces is unique in discography of Davis and Griffin for several reasons. Firstly, though the saxophonists share billing on the traycard as well as the same rhythm section, none of the tracks feature the pair together. Secondly, the set list is comprised almost completely of ballads. The only exception arises in the Griffin-penned title waltz that ambles along at a medium tempo. Thirdly, and perhaps most surprisingly, the tape reel sat sequestered on a shelf for the better part of forty years. The chosen schematic removes the possibility of sparks striking between the two men, but each is so versed at fronting an ensemble that it's worth paying attention to his interplay with the Parlan-led rhythm team that also employs supple bass of Buddy Catlett and the always ecumenical drumming of Art Taylor.
Aside from Griffin's jovial opener the remaining cuts predictably draw from the jazz standard songbook. For some inexplicable reason Davis is saddled with Parlan's decision to play celeste on his featured tracks and the cloying wind chime tonalities of the instrument quickly pall. Even Catlett and Taylor sound a bit stultified by the situation. Luckily the robust purr of Davis' horn acts as an effective antidote, gliding eloquently through choruses and offering a salty tang to the otherwise saccharine surroundings. Parlan's piano work is a different story, nimble and elegant and dulcetly supportive of Griff's mellifluous lines, particularly on pieces like the positively intoxicating reading of "Willow Weep For Me." Adding measurably to an already valuable trove are four alternate takes (three by Griff and one by Jaws) that bolster the running time to just over fifty fulsome minutes.
According the liner notes, the pair cut the date at a New York studio and interest swiftly waned toward the results. Davis' topflight session at Rudy Van Gelder's taped two days earlier with the same rhythm section and conguero Willie Bobo added (released as Goin' to the Meeting ) may have also swayed opinions against releasing the material. Today's vantage point makes room for a different appraisal. Davis' catalog is now a finite commodity, making virtually any "new" work worth scrutiny. Griffin continues to record, but again anything of antique vintage unearthed in his oeuvre is cause for collectors and casual fans to take notice. Despite a minor complaint or two, this collection is certainly that, and one that any fan of either man should waste no time in checking it out.
Track Listing: Pisces*/ Midnight Sun/ Willow Weep For Me*/ Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered/ What Is There To Say?/ She's Funny That Way*/ Yesterdays/ Sophisticated Lady*/ Willow Weep for Me (alternate)*/ She's Funny That Way*/ Sophisticated Lady*/ What Is There To Say?
Personnel: Johnny Griffin- tenor saxophone*; Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis- tenor saxophone; Horace Parlan- piano*, celeste; Buddy Catlett- bass; Arthur Taylor- drums. Recorded: May 3, 1962, NYC.
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.