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Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis & Johnny Griffin Quintet: Tough Tenors Again 'N' Again

John Kelman By

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It's been over a year since Promising Music's last series of lovingly remastered and repackaged titles from the classic MPS catalog of the 1960s/70s, but they're back with two 2012 reissues that, once again, demonstrate the breadth and depth of a German label that ran the gamut from straight-ahead to fusion, and from down-and-dirty blues to the freest of the free. First up is Tough Tenors Again 'N' Again, truly a lost 1970 classic of muscular and unrepentantly down-the-middle jazz from the twin salvo of saxophonists Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis and Johnny Griffin. The two tenor men first joined forces in 1960 for Tough Tenors (Jazzland), but took another decade to reunite for Again 'N' Again and if, in the interim, the duo had to recruit an entirely different rhythm section, they were none the worse for taking advantage of some preexisting chemistry with the by-then equally longstanding Clarke-Boland Big Band's pianist, bassist and drummer.

Thanks to Italian producer Gigi Campi, Belgian pianist Francy Boland came together with American bassist Jimmy Woode and drummer Kenny Clarke in 1961 for Jazz is Universal (Atlantic)—the first of more than twenty records made in the ensuing decade—but the seeds of Again 'N' Again were sown when Griffin and Davis joined Clarke-Boland for 1967's Sax No End, another MPS session in need of the Promising Music touch. So, by the time the quintet convened in Cologne, Germany for Again 'N Again's one-day session, they were a well-oiled quintet armed for bear.

Clarke may be best known for his largely subtle approach to the kit—no surprise, then, that he was an ideal fit for the earliest incarnation of Modern Jazz Quartet—but here he demonstrates plenty of firepower to match his two testosterone-filled leaders, with a solo at the end of Davis and Griffin's brief but fiery opening title track that meets and raises the two tenorists' soaring energy note-for-note and pulse-for-pulse. Rather than go trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie's Afro Cuban route, Davis and Griffin turn the Chano Gonzales/Walter Gilbert Fuller classic, "Tin Tin Deo," into a grooving soul-jazz highlight that, at over ten minutes, gives both saxophonists and Boland plenty of space. Even tackling a gentle ballad like the perennial classic "If I Had You," covered by every singer from Nat "King" Cole and Frank Sinatra to Willie Nelson, Tough Tenors ooze body and soul, with Davis' closing solo and brief a capella outro a classic lesson in the confluence of technique and feel.

The rest of the album is just as good, from the easygoing swagger of Davis' "Jim Dawg" and ambling "Gigi" to Griffin's late-night ballad "When We Were One," that take up what was originally the second side of the vinyl release. At a time when vinyl is making a comeback and debates continue about whether it's a better medium than CD, releases like Again 'N' Again demonstrate that, in the right hands, a CD can sound every bit as warm and full as vinyl—and with three separate liner notes in the package, Promising Music's reissue is hands-down the definitive version of this overlooked mainstream classic.

Track Listing: Again 'N' Again; Tin Tin Deo; If I Had You; Jim Dawg; When We Were One; Gigi.

Personnel: Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis: tenor saxophone; Johnny Griffin: tenor saxophone; Francy Boland: piano; Jimmy Woode: Bass; Kenny Clarke: drums.

Title: Tough Tenors Again 'N' Again | Year Released: 2012 | Record Label: Promising Music/MPS

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