Most follwers of Griffin’s robust tenor sound don’t regard the man who was widely regarded at various times as the ‘Little Giant,” “The Cat” and “the fastest tenor on the scene” as a boundary stretching modernist. He did serve a memorable stint in Monk’s quartet, delivering an angular urgency that complimented the pianist’s idiosyncratic style, but few would include him among the numbers of saxophonists who have flirted with the experimental fringes of jazz.
This Riverside reissue presents a persuasive case for reevaluation of Griffin’s relegation to the confines of the mainstream. First off there’s the eye-opening instrumentation. The rounded chamber music platitudes of Watkin’s horn combined with the manifold steel-fingered bass solidity of Lee (Spike’s father) and Gales, and the lightning-quick traps work of Riley all come together in an irresistibly mellifluous melange. Next there’s the truly incendiary playing that five men goad each other into. Griffin’s fastest gun mantle comes into glorious focus on the group’s velocious reading of Cole Porter’s “In the Still of the Night.” Lee and Gales build an unbelievably fast pizzicato forest of plucked strings that meshes with Riley’s cymbals before Griffin pops the cork and pours forth a blurring spray of melodic phrases. The only disappointment is the tune’s all too fast fade. Riley on mallets and sawing tandem bass bows set the stage on Griffin’s austere “Last of the Fat Pants” where the saxophonist delivers a persuasive sermon with artistry and assurance.
The whole disc is rife with a muscular vigor that manifests itself in the savory strength of each player’s improvisations. Griffin preaches from the guts and his oratory fire is tempered admirably by the cool balm of Watkin’s rotund brass. As a front line the two horn players are a tough deuce to beat. Based on the concrete rhythmic underpinning the two bassists carve together Griffin’s decision to pair the two is indicative of a stroke of genius. Listening to them scrape and snap away at their strings makes one wish they had found further opportunities to record together. Lee in particular is a revelation, both in regards to his formidable technique and in the two compositions he contributes to the program of tunes. “Nocturne” and “As We Know” are each brimming with thoughtful harmonic twists and take excellent advantage of the quintet’s unique instrumental palette with special attention to interplay between the basses. Riley keeps flawless time whether building a booming march-like cadence as on “Same to You” or crafting loose cymbal accents as on the Watkins penned “Situation.” This release is easily one of the most satisfying reissues by Riverside in some time and that’s really saying something when you consider the incredible catalog this label has at it’s disposal. Fans of Griffin who haven’t been previously privy to this exciting session are guaranteed to find what their looking for over the course of these nine boundary breaching tracks.
Track Listing: Soft and Furry/ In the Still of the Night/ The Last of the Fat Pants/ Same To You/ Connie
Personnel: Johnny Griffin- tenor saxophone; Julius Watkins- french horn; Bill Lee- double bass; Larry Gales- double bass; Ben Riley- drums.
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already. SOOOO... he started me off LP's by Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum, Bud Powell, Errol Garner, Bill Evans, Monty Alexander, Charlie Byrd, and Dave Brubeck... does it get any better than that? ...No, it doesn't. I was hooked!!
I met and had a master class with the late music giant John Lewis, leader of the Modern Jazz Quartet! This was at CCNY in 1977. I was blessed! It was an incredible class... how could it have been anything else?!?!
The first jazz record I bought was...I bought numerous records from my friend at the record store, as mentioned above. He introduced me to nothing but music giants/legends! I think The Dave Brubeck Quartet, Greatest Hits, was actually the first one.
My advice to new listeners... study first--understand the rudiments--solfeggio, keys, scales, and basic chords. Read a book or take a class that includes the study of chord progressions, especially in jazz. It should ideally be a piano class so you can play multiple notes together. Have a good EAR or else it's not really worth it in my view...to become a musician, a good EAR for music is about as fundamental as breathing! Learn to read chord charts--i.e., lead sheets - wherein you play various voicings of the chords--major, minor, dominant 7th (alterations of these, you can learn over time - the basic chords are most important for starters), plus the melody, on the piano or keyboard. If you have to read the exact notes, then it's not the same as actually internalizing it & getting it all into your head. If you can do this, I think you're ready not only for listening to jazz, but understanding many concepts of it! Of course...anyone can listen to jazz... but I think it's so good to also have a grasp of it.