Change of Pace: Johnny Griffin
Johnny Griffin (ts) Julius Watkins (frh) Bill Lee (b) Larry Gales (b) Ben Riley (drs)
NYC; February 7 & 16, 1961
Soft and Furry (3:38) (Johnny Griffin)
In the Still of the Night (3:25) (Cole Porter)
The Last of the Fat Pants (4:17) (Johnny Griffin)
Same to You (4:19) (Johnny Griffin)
Connie’s Bounce (3:55) (Consuela Moorehead)
Situation (3:51) (Julius Watkins)
Nocturne (5:21) (Bill Lee)
Why Not? (4:57) (Johnny Griffin)
As We All Know (4:44) (Bill Lee)
Just to note: the instrumentation with which tenorman JOHNNY GRIFFIN has surrounded himself on this occasion – tow bassists, drums, French horn – is enough to give strong indication that this album is very much what its title promises: a change of pace. Listening to these nine selections is very likely to bring you to share our feeling that this is one of the most genuinely unusual, interesting and provocative recordings in a long time.
It embodies a sound blend and a jazz approach that cannot be precisely compared to anything else that I, for one, can recall ever having heard. On the one hand there is the mellow and subtle tonal effect you would expect from bowed bass and French horn and that you also frequently get here (although this you would not, from past experience, be too apt to expect) from a very different-sounding Johnny Griffin. But there is also the jazz bite, thrust and aggressive swing that Griffin can provide at least as well as any man now playing tenor, and that Julius Watkins (and practically no other French horn player ever) is so capable of . In search of a descriptive handle for this music, around the Riverside office we finally came to call it “hard-bop chamber music,” which is perhaps a bit too flippant, but does pretty well convey an idea of its flavor.
One of the several noteworthy aspects of this unique concept, as conceived and carried through by Griffin, is that it represents another forward step in the rapid deepening, widening and maturing of the considerable talents of a musician who for quite some time was categorized by many as merely a speed-demon (blower.’ Johnny has always been able to get around on his horn with incredible fluency at top tempos (and his dazzling performance here on Cole Porter’s In the Still of the Night demonstrates that he remain in command in that area when he chooses to get up there). But Griff actually can deal articulately and effectively with a very full range of tempos, emotions and ideas. This is a point that many listeners began to grasp in 1960, when he departed from the small-band blowing format for the first time on records in his remarkable Big Soul-Band” album. In the year between that LP and the recording of this one, Johnny’s working time has largely been spent with the quintet he co-leads with Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis. And it may well be that one side of his musical nature is sufficiently satisfied by that highly successful, hard-driving group t encourage him to turn his mind to something as distinctive as the present recording.
This album is not a deliberate attempt to create a revolution, nor is it merely an exercise in being arbitrarily off-trail. It is something far more musically valid, a following-through of an intriguing concept that struck Johnny as having rich possibilities and that stayed with him until he could no longer resist it. At that point he proceeded to concentrate on exploring and developing the idea – with taste, logic, humor and determination. (Much of that determination was needed to overcome the initial skepticism of others, myself included. I admit to having raised my eyebrows when Griffin first described his plans. But when I came to realize that he was quietly but doggedly putting in a great deal of composing and rehearsing time, I felt compelled to pay attention – and was quickly converted to enthusiasm.)
Early in the game, Johnny enlisted the aid of Bill Lee, a fellow-Chicagoan who is a fine composer-arranger as well as one of the most capable bowed-bass players around. Lee contributed greatly to both the preparation and execution of the date. He and Larry Gales (who is a regular member of the Griffin-Lockjaw rhythm section, as is the firmly swinging drummer, Ben Riley) carry out most ably Johnny’s idea of the two basses as extra-rich but non-conflicting supporting elements. In ensembles, for the most part, one bass is played with the bow (usually by Lee) and the other is plucked. Both bassists also prove to be eloquent solo voices, and things are pretty evenly divided in that area. Both solo on Same to You (Lee’s bowed choruses precede Gale’s Pizzicato), and Bill also takes an arco solo on Nocturne and plucks one on Connie’s Bounce. Gales has bowed choruses on As We All Know and Situation.
Still another notable element here is the emergence of Griffin as a writer of unusually intriguing jazz lines. Except for the previously noted Cole Porter standard, this is an all-originals repertoire, and the level of writing displays well-above-average amounts of thought and substance. Bill Lee provided the finger-popping blues, As We All Know, and the deeply plaintive Nocturne (which Griffin probes in a way that, all by itself, ought to demolish the remmants of that theory that he is basically a racehorse-tempo man). Bill also brought along Connie’s Bounce, written by his sister, and Julius Watkins offered the spritely Situation. The remaining four tunes, however are all Griffin’s work, ranging from the richly moody and sensuous lead-off track to the savagely compelling bolero he calls The Last of the Fat Pants (the reference is to recent trends in hip clothing styles). There is also the swinging Why Not? And the infectuously witty Same to You, but the first two numbers in particular demonstrate differing and extremely effective uses of the instrumentation (quartet for the opening Soft and Furry; with Watkins added for Fat Pants ) and the “change of pace” sound.
Griffin’s previous Riverside albums include –
Johnny Griffin Sextet (RLP12-264)
Way Out (RLP 12-274)
The Little Giant (RLP 12-304; Stereo RLP 1149)
The Big Soul-Band (RLP 12-331; Stereo RLP-1179)
Johnny Griffin’s Studio Party (RLP 338; Stereo 9338)
(The present recording is also available in Stereophonic form on RLP 9268)
Produced by ORRIN KEENEWS
Album design: KEN DEARDOFF
Back-liner photographs by STEVE SHCAPIRO
Recording Engineer: RAY FOWLER
Recorded at Plaza Sound Studios
Mastered by Jack Matthews (Compornents Corp.) on HYDROFEED LATHE
RIVERSIDE RECORDS are produced by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS, Inc.
235 West 46th Street New York 36, New York