Johnny Griffin

Johnny Griffin

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As a CD reissue, it's a crime that this very first outing by Johnny Griffin as a leader is only available from Japan in an irritating paper sleeve that comes apart down the center. OK, enough bitching. Here's the skinny: Griffin's first date featured the saxophonist in the company of Junior Mance on piano, bassist Wilbur Ware, and session drummer Buddy Smith. The program features eight tunes that were fairly standard fare for jazzmen in 1956, such as "These Foolish Things," Jerome Kern's "Yesterdays," and the Youmans-Greene nugget "The Boy Next Door." These are played with the requisite verve and mastery of harmony, rhythm, and melodic changes, but they don't really stand out. What does stand out in this program are Griffin's originals, such as "Satin Wrap," which has since been covered by any tenor player worth his mouthpiece. It's a funky blues number that does not fall headlong into the hard bop swinging that would be so pervasive in the tenorist's style. Instead there are more formalist notions that suggest Paul Gonsalves and Coleman Hawkins. In addition, the album-closer, "Lollypop," comes out swinging hard with an R&B hook that digs in. Mance propels Griffin with fat, greasy chords that suggest a Chicago bar-walking honk frenzy, but Griffin's own playing is too sophisticated and glides like Lester Young around the changes. Also notable here is Ware's beautiful bop run "Riff Raff." The bassist knew not only how to write for but arrange for horns. Mance and Griffin are in it knee-deep, note for note, with Mance adding beefy left-hand clusters to the melody as Ware and Smith play it straight time until the solo, when the middle breaks up and everybody goes in a different direction. It's got the hard bop blues at its root. This recording is brief, as it originally came out on a 10" LP, but is nonetheless a necessary addition to any shelf that pays Johnny Griffin homage.

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